SOUTH HOLLAND | In the future, you'll be able to place orders or help your kids with their homework on credit card-sized mobile devices that you'll be able to use by tracing your finger in the air nearby.
The devices will be so smart that they will know which email you need to read first, be able to read the emotion in the language of messages from family members to alert you if your immediate attention is required, and could tell you exactly what you could get done in the five minutes you have before your train arrives.
Advanced mobile devices, made smarter by cloud computing, could tell you if you had enough time to walk to a nearby coffee shop without missing your train, or if you had time to complete some other task. Your device would know you would not be able to work on a detailed budget presentation with your thumbs on your smartphone, but could help you schedule meetings to plan the presentation.
That future is coming very, very soon, said Adam Hecktman, director of technology and civic engagement for Microsoft's Chicago office. During a presentation to the Calumet Area Industrial Commission at Seton Academy, Hecktman highlighted new technology that either recently hit the marketplace, will soon be available, or is being developed as a prototype.
Over the next few years, a lot of the technological focus will with big data, natural interface and the internet of things, Hecktman said. A major retailer is experimenting with packaging with built-in computer sensors that will know if it contains meat or fish, and will be able to provide more accurate, real-time expiration dates based on the temperatures it has been stored in and how much oxygen it has been exposed to.
People will be able to tap on their refrigerator doors, turning it clear so they can see what's inside. Graphic interfaces will tell them how many eggs they have left, and how much longer those restaurant leftovers are good for.
More and more things will be connected to the Internet to help make life simpler, and devices will become increasingly interconnected, Hecktman said. Signs at an airport, for instance, could switch languages if sensors detect a traveler is an English speaker, based on the style of their clothes.
Digital ads in public places could be tailored to individual consumers to the point where two people from different demographic groups would see different messages on the same sign. People could choose to let their mobile devices share their data with the surrounding environment to have more convenient experiences, such as if they wanted a hotel bellhop to know they would be arriving soon with one bag and liked extra pillows and yoga.
Computers will be calibrated to interact more with natural speech and gestures, Hecktman said. They will be able to track gazes to furnish information about what someone is looking at and be made from more flexible materials, so they could be bent like magazines. Increasingly popular wearable devices will let people do things once only imagined in science fiction, such as get real-time translations of foreign speech.
"This is all going to available," he said. "A lot of it is very expensive, but the price will go down."