Gates in Ottawa: Don’t ignore the ‘natural interface’

OTTAWA – If you thought the last decade was an exciting time in the high-tech industry, you haven’t seen anything yet, Microsoft Corp. chairman and chief software architect told a Canadian audience of technology professionals on Tuesday.

“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.’”

“Nat ural interface” is a reference to ways, other than keyboards, that connect a person 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 said current trends that indicate how important the Internet is becoming in people’s lives 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 is expanding the possibilities of what software is capable of, Gates said.

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

Those asked by about Gates’ presentation afterward were generally pleased.

“I get the distinct impression he inspired a lot of people in the audience,” said Jim Orban, publisher of the Ottawa Citizen.

Simon Morris, director for BDC Venture Capital, said Gates’ speech gave him the impression that software and IT are good business areas to be involved in for the coming years. But he added that there’s not enough focus on these areas within Ottawa’s tech sector, referring to it as “hodgepodge.”

Criticizing one part  of how the Gates event was carried out, Morris said it was “small town-ish” to have Ottawa Senators chief operating officer Cyril Leeder and Ottawa Mayor Larry O’Brien present Gates with a Sens jersey after his remarks.

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