Bill Gates tells Ottawa: You can’t ignore the

Microsoft Corp. chairman and chief software architect told a Canadian audience of technology professionals last month. “I look at the next 10 years and say there’s not a doubt this will be the most exciting (time) of the IT industry,” he said at the National Arts Centre.Gates was speaking at an event put on by the Information Technology Association of Canada (ITAC) and the Ottawa Centre for Research and Innovation (OCRI). He was also host of Microsoft’s annual Can>Win conference that took place the same day.

OCRI president Jeffrey Dale asked Gates what “the next big thing” would be in technology.

Gates replied: “I think the thing that is being underestimated the most at this point is the impact of what we call ‘natural interface.’”

Natural interface” is a reference to ways other than keyboards that users can connect to advanced technology and involves more intuitive body actions, according to Gates.

“(The) keyboard doesn’t go away,” Gates said. “It becomes one of many techniques, and you go to things like ink or speech or visual understanding.”

Gates recalled how the proliferation of PCs and growth of Internet usage in the mid-1990s allowed companies like his, and others, to flourish during that period.

He said the software sector is still a good place to be and will be a driver of the “digital revolution,” which will be ongoing for quite some time. He said Microsoft is currently spending about US$6 billion a year on research and development, which is the most it has ever invested and the most any company in the world is spending right now.

Gates pointed to current trends that indicate how important the Internet is becoming in people’s lives. These include the amount of news people get online, TV programming that can be downloaded from the Web, and 3-D online maps that include details such as the inside layout of stores.

“Even a simple concept like a map is being redefined,” he said.

And constant growth in the capacity of processors and increasing use of broadband Internet are expanding the possibilities of what software is capable of doing in corporate enterprise, Gates said.

Gates’ speech was attended by about 2,500 people, most of whom were either technology professionals or students.

It was the first time Gates had visited Canada since the Toronto AIDS conference last year.

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