People often ask me if we’re nearing the end of the digital revolution—if technology progress is at a point of diminishing returns and the personal computer has reached the apex of its development.
I believe the opposite is true. In many ways, the incredible advances of the past few decades have really just laid the foundation for much more profound change. In the years to come, hardware will continue to improve, often in dramatic ways. Software will continue to advance as we develop new approaches to take advantage of multicore processors, expanded data storage and more pervasive broadband access. Together, hardware and software will be the catalyst for advances during the next 10 years that will far exceed the changes of the last 30 years.
Soon, computing and software will be available everywhere— throughout the office and the home, in your car and in stores, restaurants and public spaces. We’ll access computing capabilities on a wide range of devices, often taking advantage of nearby displays and projection surfaces. Meanwhile, the proliferation of massive data centres and the increasing ubiquity of broadband networks will create a fabric of information and computing capabilities that extends seamlessly across our lives at work and at home, from any location.
This combination of powerful software running on devices, services running on the Web and huge amounts of storage via the Internet will mean that all your information will be instantly accessible to you. Soon, you’ll be able to call up any documents or media files that you’ve created or saved, using any device at hand— a PC, a mobile phone, a TV, a portable game player or a music device. Your preferences, contacts, calendars and applications will be seamlessly available, and the way information and features are presented will automatically adjust to deliver the best experience for the device you are using.
These changes will have a dramatic impact on business. New information technology tools are enabling companies of all sizes to streamline communications and collaboration, simplify processes, and provide employees with instant access to the information they need to make smart decisions. Even more important, we are closer than ever to realizing our vision for information systems that have the flexibility, intelligence and self-awareness to adapt automatically as business conditions change. These will deliver precisely the information, services and applications that employees and customers need, when and where they need them.
Technology is also changing the way we live—the way we share experiences and communicate with the people we care about, the way we preserve memories of events, the way we access entertainment, the way we learn, and how we utilize health care.
Simply put, technology is transforming the way we interact with each other and understand the world we live in. The ubiquity of software, devices and connectivity is providing a platform for rich and complex social communities that are central to the way we satisfy the universal desire for human interaction. The popularity of online services such as Xbox Live, Windows Live Spaces, Facebook and MySpace demonstrates the powerful appeal of technology that enables connections and community. (Xbox Live and Windows LiveSpaces are owned by Microsoft, which holds a 1.6% stake in Facebook; MySpace is owned by News Corp., publisher of The Wall Street Journal. Mint has an exclusive content partnership in India with WSJ.)
This transformation will pick up speed as the way we interact with technology evolves to resemble the way people interact. Cheaper, more powerful computing has enabled researchers to solve difficult problems such as voice and handwriting recognition, and we’re beginning to see the emergence of interfaces that incorporate speech, handwriting, vision, touch and gestures.
We’ll also see rapid progress in display technology. In the next decade, screens will become cheaper, lighter, more portable and more pervasive. We’ll link our portable devices to nearby displays or project information onto nearby surfaces. The combination of new input and output mechanisms will have a revolutionary impact, not only on how we interact with technology, but how we interact with each other.
When Paul Allen and I founded Microsoft more than 30 years ago, our dream was to put a computer on every desk and in every home. Today, about one billion people have a PC. A large number, but just a fraction of the world’s 6.6 billion people. As we make technology more affordable and simpler to use, we will be able to extend the social and economic opportunities that come with better access to education, information, health care and global marketplaces. As more and more of the world’s people participate in the knowledge economy, the result will be new innovations that make everyone’s lives richer, more connected, more productive and more fulfilling.
I believe this will be the biggest change during the next 10 years —the expansion of the digital revolution to people who aren’t yet able to participate in the knowledge economy. In many ways, we’ve only begun to see the great potential of digital technology. I’m excited to see what the future will bring.
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
Edited excerpts. Bill Gates is chairman of Microsoft Corp. Comment at firstname.lastname@example.org