Future shock: The PC of 2019

What's in store for everybody's go-to computer? Watch the cool video from MIT's Media Lab for one vision.

For those of you who want the world at your fingertips, the wait is almost over.

The future PC promises to put nearly everything you could need or want right in your palm.

Think of a souped-up version of today's smartphone, with a monitor that unrolls into a larger screen and a biometric security system that lets you access everything in your professional and personal life from anywhere, with all the data residing in the cloud. Wave it at your car to unlock the door. Order and pay for your morning coffee with a touch of a button. Plug it into a docking station and project that big presentation to your clients. Book a weekend getaway with just a few clicks.

"PCs are going from engines or tools to portals and enablers. The vision of what they'll be in the future is a partner. They'll be participating in the higher cognitive tasks of what people do to get their jobs done," says Andrew Chien, director of research at Intel Corp.

The personal computer has been a corporate workhorse for decades. And while it has evolved, becoming slimmer and more mobile, in many ways it still resembles those old terminals tethered to the mainframe. But the next decade will bring dramatic changes, as the PC evolves past the standard desktop and laptop units to amalgamations of computing devices and their peripherals.

This future PC will be smarter, too. It could discreetly remind you of the name of an acquaintance and alert you when it's time to take your medicine. It will be your colleague, your butler -- and possibly your friend.

We talked and corresponded with a dozen or so experts in R&D, IT management and academia to get a feel for what they're expecting the PC to look like a decade from now.

A New Look

One thing everyone seems to agree on: The PC of 2019 won't look like today's laptops. "I'm not seeing people carrying anything that looks like a book," says Dan Siewiorek, a professor of computer science and electrical and computer engineering at Carnegie Mellon University and director of the university's Human-Computer Interaction Institute. "It would be like a phone or a ring or watch. It will probably take multiple form factors."

Siewiorek says function will increasingly influence what PCs look like. An older person who needs help with independent living, for example, might carry a PC in the form of a wristwatch and use it as a virtual coach that reminds him about appointments or medicine schedules.

A technical worker might have her PC in her eyeglasses, allowing her to access and view information through embedded monitors and share what she's seeing with colleagues and supervisors via a camera in the glasses. Siewiorek says he can even imagine how PC technology could revolutionize the way, say, offshore crane operators or airplane mechanics do their jobs.

Pranav Mistry at MIT's Media Lab has developed the "Sixth Sense," a technology so personal that it blurs the boundary between individual and machine.

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