Yesterday at Microsoft’s TechFest the behemoth company
concept for an operating system they’ve decided to call
Singularity. This is a meme grab that will not go un-noticed by the
growing mass of Singularity-aware.
In tech and futurist circles the word singularity is almost
always synonymous with the technological singularity – a concept
coined by mathematician Vernor Vinge
that’s been the basis for innumerable theoretical and sci-fi
scenarios and exalted for its societal implications. Inventor and
technology theorist Ray
Kurzweil has also used it to mean “a period of extremely rapid
technological progress, implied by a long-term pattern of
There’s even an entire institute dedicated to furthering the
study of such a possibility.
Research for Microsoft’s Singularity apparently began
in 2003 as ground-work for a “highly-dependable operating
system in which the kernel, device drivers, and applicatios are all
written in managed code.” In other words, this is a significant
“Singularity is not the next Windows,”
said senior VP Rick Rashid, in a statement. “Think of it like a
concept car. It is a prototype operating system designed from the
ground up to test-drive a new paradigm for how operating systems
and applications interact with one another. We are making it
available to the community in the hope that it will enable
researchers to try out new ideas quickly.”
Microsoft did not choose the Singularity brand for their
forthcoming OS by accident. Bill Gates is hip to acceleration, has
spoken at length with Kurzweil and is surely betting the
Singularity meme will grow proportionately to technology. It’s like
buying a gigantic domain name for a bargain-basement price.
So now it’s up to Microsoft to deliver a kick-ass application
that lives up to the name. Rest assured that all the
Singularity-aware will be following this one closely.
Google Inc, the uncontested leader in Internet services
announced it has shipped its 5 millionth “free” computer, only 14
months after starting up the “Free Computer Program”. The Google
Product Manager, Pierre Lindsely, stated he is overwhelmed by the
success of his project and they are trying very hard to keep up
People now have to wait more than three weeks to get their
“G-Tops”, as they have become known as, instead of the three days
when the program started. Pierre Lindsely: “People will wait for
anything if it’s free, so I am not worried that this will impact
the enthusiasm for this product. We are attracting some new
suppliers and we will see the waiting time decrease gradually.” The
free Google computers come with a free broadband connection that
connects only to Google WI-FI hubs (aka as G-Spots). (cont.)
AP reports a new deal between Apple and cell provider
will bring the iPhone to “Austria, Belgium, the Dominican Republic,
Egypt, Jordan, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Switzerland
and African markets later this year.”
Though the iPhone presently costs more than a OLPC PC, $399 vs. $100, that price is due to sharply
drop (perhaps to the $100 -$200 range) with the imminent release of
the new 3G iPhone, which itself may be priced at just $199 if
about a hefty AT&T subsidy prove correct.
While lack of comm infrastructure and politics will certainly
remain the primary barriers to diffusion, it looks as though these
low-cost yet high-value products, driven by large companies getting
accustomed to rapidly exploding markets in which first-mover
advantage is critical, may catalyze a perfect storm for
connectivity in under-developed nations, most notably African
The release of the 3G Iphone last week (which
featured GPS function and encouraged 3rd
party application development) and the first prominent commercial
installation of the Microsoft Surface
table at Rio’s in Las Vegas signals a shift in the way we are going
to interact in public spaces. It also marks the beginning of a
dramatic increase in device and location driven 3rd party
application development. Take a look at the Surface promo video
below (warning – it’s a little cheesy).
Throw away the mouse and keyboard. New technologies are about to provide us with personal avatars – computerized images of our choice – connected to the Internet, and displayed on wall-size screens. Avatars will understand us, listen to our demands, and anticipate our needs.
Most people think interactive systems like these are a long ways off, but two trends are quickening the pace. Improved speech-recognition systems will soon enable people to converse with computers in normal-spoken English, and entrepreneurs are flooding to the Internet creating new business applications that take advantage of speech recognition.
IBM and Microsoft expect to soon eliminate all of the errors in today’s speech recognition software, and create systems that will mimic human speech perfectly without flaws. The MIT Project Oxygen new voice-machine interface can look you in the eye, let you ask questions in casual English, and answer them. Close your eyes and you think you’re talking with a human.
Microsoft chairman Bill Gates claims that by 2012, voice-enabled “smart” systems will allow us to converse naturally and comfortably, directly to flat panel displays. On command, our personal avatar will appear on the display. She (or he) will help us shop, work, learn, and conduct business and social relationships on the Internet. Computers will disappear and become part of the display.
Amtrak, Wells Fargo, and Land’s End are taking advantage of these new systems. They plan to replace keypad-menu call centers with speech-recognition systems to save money and improve customer relations. General Motors OnStar and Lexus DVD Nav systems are adding more than 1 million new subscribers each year. Analysts believe most businesses will convert to automatic speech systems as the technology matures.
nearly 5% of its market value yesterday when Microsoft
announced that it will begin offering rebates to consumers who use
its Live Search
to discover and purchase products. The action marks the beginning
of a new phase in the online battle for our attention which will
gradually return more and more value to the user.
It is significant and a bit surprising that Microsoft, a company
known for squeezing every last bit of value out of its dominant
position in operating systems, and not Google (which is using a
very similar tactic vs. Wikipedia by creating a competitor,
Knol, that returns ad
revenue to contributors)is leading the charge to return capital to
its users. Though I’m sure Google has similar options readily
available (having so much familiarity with revenue splitting via
its AdSense program and development
of Knol) this goes to show the company is confident in its ongoing
development of search and content to react to Microsoft’s moves and
let the market do the talking.
The Main Takeaway: As the value of human attention
allocation continues to rise and more competition essentially
commoditizes current web applications, we can expect that companies
will be forced to either 1) return value directly through revenue
share, 2) return value through a superior product and/or network,or
3) a combination of 1 and 2. We should expect these trends to
transform our web experience over the coming years as search
companies (Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Fledglings), Semantic Web
Companies (Twine, Adaptive Blue), social media
(Digg, Reddit, Stumble Upon),
social networks (Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn), prediction markets
social web browsers (Medium, Flock), etc. all try to garner human
Microsoft being forced into the value-added game is a strong
indication that the rise in value of attention allocation is quite
Update: Some thorough and spot-on analysis of the
situation by Michael Arrington
In a paper released yesterday, AJ.P. Gownder and James L.
McQuivey at Forrester predict that by 2013
Apple will become the hub of the digital home. They support
this contention by imagining
eight future Apple
products including “wall-mountable digital picture frames with
small high-definition screens and speakers that wirelessly play
media”, “an Apple ‘clock radio’ that pipes in music and other media
across a home network”, and “an ‘AppleSound’ universal remote
control, also with a touch-sensitive screen, that lets users browse
their music collections and change the songs playing through their
stereo as they stroll around the house.”
I tend to concur with the rest of the
blogosphere in that this is quite the tame list and that we’ll
probably see significantly more advanced products from the likes of
Apple circa 2013. With dropping component costs (hi-rez screens,
processors, graphics cards, etc.), rising data transfer speeds
(Internet2, a possible
re-allocation of analog TV spectrum) new competition from
proliferating design & interface companies, and the fact that
most of these concepts already in prototype, I believe such
products are more likely to hit mass-markets inside of 3 years
rather than 5 long years away.
In particular I find the “wall-mountable digital picture frames”
prediction a bit weak. If former Xerox PARC
Director John Seely Brown is accurate
in his estimation that Apple CEOSteve Jobs “is
positioning himself to take over completely the living room,” then
by 2013 I see the company developing radically cooler products such
as a slick telepresence
interface that future blogger Dick Pelletier expects
by 2015 or before .
Being that such devices, albeit clunky and expensive versions,
are already being sold by the likes of
VisBox, and that
holographic and projection technologies could eliminate
the expensive screen altogether, it’s unlikely that Steve Jobs and
his crack team of agile researchers and designers haven’t yet
realized the trumping value of rich multi-purpose,
telepresence-enabling interfaces. (cont.)
Bill Gates is publicly betting on accelerating change.
Changes in software and computing over the next 10 years
will be “very substantial” and will permeate all facets of life,
Gates told a crowd of about 1,100 people during a Northern Virginia
Technology Council breakfast in Washington, D.C. Computers and
software have changed how people take photographs and purchase
music, but other industries will be affected just as much in coming
years, he said. (source, IDG News
Furthermore, the always smart but suddenly
super-progressive former Microsoft Chairman predicts that
internet TV, new interfaces, digital textbooks and virtual worlds
will see big growth and serve as major catalysts.
Television will be married with the Internet, allowing for
personalized news and commercials. People will watch more of their
home movies on their TV screens, and TV sets and computers will be
increasingly connected. Television will be an “utterly different
thing,” he said.
“Computer users will have more options for inputting
information beyond the mouse and keyboard. Speech and handwriting
recognition software will gain in popularity. Computers will move
off the desktop, with speech recognition and motion-sensing cameras
allowing users to control screens embedded into desktops or
Microsoft recently unveiled to the mass public a new gadget
called the Sphere they’ve been working on in their labs. The video
shows some pretty crazy applications that the Sphere could be used
for – the most amazing being their ‘earth’ demo which depicts a
spinning interactive globe. Check it for yourself:
If there’s one thing this video helps me to realize, it’s that
Google Earth would be incredible on this spherical display. But,
although it shows some ingenuity and outside-the-box thinking, this
display will most likely never make it past being a handy geography
The problems inherent in the Sphere are numerous. Flat displays
mean you don’t have to go searching all around for objects on your
desktop like photos or open windows. The game function is flat out
impossible in any competition-based scenario. The idea that you
would have enough time to react to a ball floating over the horizon
at a quick pace is laughable (the demonstrator himself has a hard
time finding the balls). And as for presentations, a large flat
screen will work better as a display tool than a ball of any
Robert Scoble recently sat down with Chris Capossela, Senior Vice President of Information Worker Group at Microsoft, and asked him about some of the new Office features that they are planning for the future.
To sum it up, Microsoft believe that since so many people are buying their product, they are the real powerhouse when it comes to information exchange. They base this on the fact they make billions of dollars and have millions of customers. Did that sound sarcastic? It was. Microsoft is coming late into the game of online collaboration and feels they can make up for lost time by forcing people to buy their product with every new PC that gets released.
This kind of mentality may have worked a year ago, but with Windows Vista sucking wind world-wide people are looking into better alternatives. Mac sales are up, Firefox continues to grow against Explorer, and more and more people are trying out rival operating systems like Linux or Fedora. With Google already releasing over 300 templates for free through their Google Docs program, as well as the growing sentiment against Microsoft products, Microsoft might just fall flat on their face with this one. In other words, why pay ridiculous amounts of money for something that you can already get for free?
Not content to be outdone by the pesky likes of Google, Yahoo and Facebook, Microsoft finally walked the plank last night, cannon-balling into the tumultuous social media sea with the conversion of its live.com property.
In a single brazen move that augmented my long defunct Hotmail account with a smart new MySpace-ish application, Live, the 4th most trafficked website on the planet (trailing Yahoo, Google, and YouTube – just ahead of Facebook, MSN, MySpace and Wikipedia), upgraded itself to a full-fledged social network chock full of the usual friending, photo sharing, blogging and events coordination features, as well as a very interesting Cloud storage play called Sky Drive.
It’s a necessary and nearly inevitable reaction as the major players jockey for web users that can fuel advertising revenue and, more importantly, core application usage.
Most significantly it reinforces the trend of web companies providing ever more user value through applications that help them manage their online world. Even the Big Bad Wolf has now succumbed to the new market reality by launching a cuddly (sky blue theme) social network that cleverly integrates email-to-blog publishing, RSS import from all of the biggest platforms, 5 GBs of free file storage and super-easy sharing of photos and other data.
Robo Dev 2008 has kicked off with a free breakfast (yay!) and not free Wi-Fi (son of a…). Yep, in the heart of Silicon Valley and I had to shell out $13 to get internet for the day. But I’m not bitter (I’ll slash some tires on the way home today).
The first speaker of the day is Tandy Trower, General Manager of the Microsoft Robotics Group. He started off by saying “It’s hard for me to answer what exactly a robot is.” His presentation is about collaborating with parters in order to develop software to run robots on.
He showcased the Microsoft Robotics Studio which is a downloadable program that lets people design and program virtual robots. “Virtual robots are programmed the same way physical robots are.” His hope is that designers and programmers will build robots on their computers which can then be built in the real world.
By the way, although Tandy said he didn’t expect to see robots like the one above for another ten years, he says that you can expect to see it on the market next year for around $3,000. Anyone have spare pocket change?
Interesting Robot Fact
1. It’s wheels have other little wheels around it, allowing tires to move in any direction regardless of position.
2. It runs on Windows XP and dances to Britney Spears (ha).