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.

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But that's just the beginning. Researchers are working on programmable products that contain embedded microprocessors and storage in the material itself. The material would be programmed to change shape based on the user's needs, Chien explains.

For example, you could morph your smartphone into a Bluetooth headset and then into a remote control by just touching a button on the device. Think of it as the ultimate Transformer toy.

"You can build computing systems that conform to different uses," Chien says, noting that the technology might not be market-ready by 2019, but it will be close.

The future PC will be different in other significant ways from today's desktop system.

There's a good chance your keyboard and monitor will be gone, replaced by projected versions instead. This approach is already being pioneered at the MIT Media Lab.

And that mouse? It will be rendered obsolete within the decade thanks to touch-screen technology, Xiao says.

Instead, he says, "output could be displayed on a variety of surfaces," including tabletops (as is the case with Microsoft Surface systems), TVs and mobile phone screens as well as vertical multitouch screens (like Perceptive Pixel Inc.'s offering), e-paper or any blank surface for holograms to be projected on.

Xiao also says that users will no longer have to choose between only full-size monitors and the miniature versions found on handhelds. Moreover, the keyboard will be obsolete or replaced by a hologram.

Siewiorek says your PC will understand boundaries, too, and adjust displays accordingly. So if you're looking at confidential budgets projected on a wall when someone walks into your office, your PC will sense that person's presence and blank out the information.

Kiss wires and plugs good-bye, too. Wireless will rule, and your PC will possibly draw power in new ways, Driver says. You might use magnetic induction charging to transfer power from the building's power supply without the need for chargers, plugs and wires. Or, Chien says, your PC might scavenge energy from the environment, drawing power from light or heat or even the motion around it.

"You can untether computing devices from power cords because they may well get some of the energy they need from the ambient environment," he predicts. "So you can charge laptops or mobile phones without plugging them in."

Xiao says that future PCs will also have better, smarter ways to input information. "Advancement in Semantic Web and artificial intelligence will greatly reduce the need of data input," he says. "Touch screens, voice commands, even brain waves will become the dominant input methods."

No more typing in data or using a mouse to manipulate data, Xiao says. Instead, you'll wave your head to move files or direct your thoughts to input information. These advances, once the realm of science fiction, are close to becoming mainstream reality.

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