Tech 2005: What's New and What's Next

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Tech Visionary: When Everything Computes

Photograph by Jason Grow.
Photograph: Jason Grow
Anant Agarwal, professor at MIT Research Labs, has been working on the Oxygen Project, in which "we are looking to create an environment with computation everywhere--in the walls of buildings, in your hands, everywhere," he says. "Computers can then attempt to assist people in a human-centric way."

Imagine a video wall installed in your family room that can act as a large television one instant, a videophone the next, and a Web browser after that. To make this kind of always-on, always-convenient future work, each object needs to be able to perform almost any computing task. The project's Raw Architecture Workstation (RAW) chip attempts to make such a capability a reality.

How soon will we be talking to walls, taking phone calls from refrigerators, and getting foreign-language translations from desk phones? Not yet, says Agarwal. Voice-operated kiosks with richer interfaces that go beyond today's machines "could be deployed in the next year or two. The longer-term ideas will take five to ten years," he says.

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