by Shane O'Neill

The Future of Productivity, According to Microsoft

Nov 02, 20113 mins
Cloud ComputingInternetMicrosoft Office

A Microsoft concept video offers a compelling vision of the future of productivity, but is it just a fantasy? And why isn't anybody having fun?

For all the lashings Microsoft takes for living in the past, it has a pretty captivating vision for the future of productivity, according to new concept video.

The elegantly filmed, six-minute video, produced by the Microsoft Office division, foresees how technology will help busy people keep their lives organized in the near future. Microsoft reps told me the technologies featured will be feasible in five to 10 years. I would say more like 20 years based on what we see in the video, which follows workers and families as they use the advanced speech recognition, holographic displays, sensor and 3D technology, and data visualization to travel, communicate, make appointments and get work done.

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Call me a skeptic, but I’d be awfully surprised if by 2017 I could point my paper-thin smartphone at an animated billboard advertisement for a benefit concert (as depicted in the video) and donate money to that organization in a few taps.

But then again, technology moves fast, and what seems like science fiction now is often in the palm of your hand a few years later.

In a company blog post Kurt DelBene, president of the Microsoft Office Division, states that all the concepts shown in the video are based on real technologies that are in development.

“Some of the capabilities, such as speech recognition, real-time collaboration and data visualization already exist today,” DelBene writes. “Others are not yet available in specific products, but represent active research and development happening at Microsoft and other companies.”

But these technologies, though forward-looking, are still far-fetched. For instance, the pair of glasses that can translate spoken language (watch for that in the video when the woman steps outside the airport) and the reminder “Your meeting tomorrow is here” that appears in the car window as the woman drives by the building where she’s scheduled to have a meeting the next day. I mean, c’mon.

Closer to the realm of possibility are the video’s touch-enabled images and text on walls and tables, though projector and light sensor technologies have a ways to go. The credit card-thin smartphones and tablets everyone is using are probably nearest to what we have today. But there’s still some explaining to do about how any battery in the world could keep such dynamic devices running for more than 10 minutes.

One complaint I have about the video is the people: Despite being super-productive, affluent and attractive, none of the people in Microsoft’s future seem to be enjoying themselves. They are connected to devices yet seem glum and disconnected from each other. The only person who actually smiles a genuine smile is the young girl researching dessert recipes on her tablet, but she doesn’t appear until the end.

Technology has the potential to disconnect people, and thereby make them sad. I assume sadness is not the message Microsoft was going for, but the video permeates with a melancholy that is at odds with Microsoft’s call to embrace the future.

Nevertheless, it also has a certain gracefulness and offers a compelling vision of what technology can become, maybe sooner than we think. There are myriad details in the video’s six minutes, so watch closely.