Gates: Next decade will bring huge software advances

The coming decade will bring even more advances in software and computing than the last 10 years, bringing new ways to watch television, to use telephones and to input information into computers, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates predicted Thursday.

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.

“There are great realms of activity that digital approach has not yet touched on,” Gates said.

Among Gates’ predictions for the coming decade:

  • 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.
  • Telephone sets will increasingly be able to handle video, e-mail and other digital media. Speech recognition will allow telephone users to ask for information such as nearby restaurants.
  • More and more software will be delivered as a service over the Internet, instead of residing on individual computers.
  • 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 whiteboards.
  • More schools will ditch textbooks for tablet PCs that hold dozens of books. New types of textbooks will increasingly contain video and other media.
  • Companies and government agencies will embrace three-dimensional computing, giving users new ways of interacting with virtual worlds. Students will increasingly use software to simulate experiments.

“In a broad sense, we can say that information workers … are not yet empowered to collaborate in the way that they should,” Gates said. “I think the opportunity is stronger than it’s ever been.”

Gates said he’s “very optimistic” about the future of the tech industry, even with the current questions about the U.S. economy. “I don’t think anything will stop the rapid advances,” he said.

Gates also repeated his concerns about the number of H-1B and other immigrant worker visas available to U.S. companies. He testified before Congress on the issue Wednesday.

On most technology, the U.S. portion of the world’s innovation is “extremely high,” Gates said, but the U.S. government needs to be aware that other countries are catching up. U.S. policymakers need to look at long-term implications of immigration policy, he said.

Some lawmakers and tech worker groups have questioned the need for more high-skill immigrant visas, saying many U.S. workers could fill those jobs.

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