I Have Seen the Future. It's Pretty Neat.

“Just think of VR as your own personal “Menus-Be-Gone” spray.”

by Michael Cooney

I have seen The Future.

“How,” you may ask, “did that happen?” Easy, except for the parking nightmare. I went to the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, held each January. There, with over one million square feet housing nearly 2,500 exhibitors lining 16 miles of “Oh-my-achin’-feet” aisles, was enough electronic gear, computers, digital cameras, plasma screens, sub-woofers and LED-blinking everythings to cause an “improper shutdown” inside my overloaded brain.

Yes, there were car stereo sub-woofers so huge you’d need a crane to lower one into your trunk. On the high-note end, titanium tweeters are in vogue.

After seeing a few thousand LCD and Plasma flat screen TVs, one line stood out: the Sharp Aquos LCD series. Big news here is a biggest-by-anyone-I know-of 45-inch LCD due out later this year. Impressive.

My personal favorite? The picture frames containing 5x7- and 8x10-inch LCD screens. You download your favorite digital photos into them and create your own Power Point or slide show of sorts. You choose the interval and the swiping method (such as the next photo entering horizontally from the left, or dropping vertically from the top). The picture will change every 10 seconds, for example, if that’s the interval you’ve chosen. Presenting a bright, beautiful, crystal clear display, it’s a winner. At least, after the price softens from its initial $500 level.

The figurative “big picture” highlight of the show was the live keynote address by Bill Gates of Microsoft. My friend Paul kept telling me “we’ve got to go see him, because everything he says comes true.” “Sure,” I said, “everything he says comes true because he only talks about things he wants to have come true, and he has enough money to make them come true.” Still, I was ready to hear my future unfold.

First came a fascinating explanation of how your PC will be wirelessly linked to your TV/World Command Center (my pet term for the Microsoft Windows Media Extender software/box, which will allow your TV to display content like photos, music, movies, etc. stored on your PC). But my focus heightened further when Bill (we’re on a first name basis) stressed that Voice Recognition (VR) technology is in its infancy, and that we MUST speed that up and make it happen before the average Joe will be comfortable having all his entertainment and information needs centered in his new TV/ World Command Center thing. For the next few years at least, you’ll have to make your way through the usual menus to bring up your favorite movies, TV shows, family photos, music, or Internet sites. That means numerous layers of clicking on this and that. You know the drill.

But in The Future, when VR is perfected, you’ll instantly cut through all the layers of menu clicking and have, instead, direct access to the exact item you want. You want to see the 1943 movie Mr. Lucky starring Carry Grant? Today, you’d click on “Movies,” then perhaps “My Favorites,” then your Favorites’ sub-category “Dramas,” then finally “Mr. Lucky.” But in the new VR world, you’ll just tell your TV/World Command Center “I wanna see the movie Mr. Lucky” and whammo! Before you’ve popped the top on that tall cold one, it’s on the screen. Just think of VR as your own personal “Menus-Be-Gone” spray.

You want to see Dean Martin sing “Volare”? Just tell your TV/World Command Center. You want to see the photo you took of your wife in front of the Eiffel Tower two years ago? Ditto. If it’s stored on your computer, it’ll be on your screen in a few seconds.

That’s it, folks. The big revelation. Want to see into the future? Think VR. Tell your TV/World Command Center to send a voice email to your sister in Missouri, speak the message, and you’re done. Tell it to open your garage door (transmitting a wireless signal), and it’s done. VR technology will follow you everywhere. Get in your car and tell your car stereo which satellite station you want, and it’s there. Tell it to crank up the volume, it does. Tell your car to “make the temperature 70 degrees and get Uncle Manny on the phone” and it’s done. And yes, when Uncle Manny answers your call, the stereo volume will drop way down without you having to tell it to. That’s VR. That’s The Future.