The intelligent personal computer of the future may be more like a close friend or member of the family than a machine, equipped to provide not only customized services but also confidential advice, predicts Bill Gates, chairman of Microsoft Corp.
With continuing advances in performance that could make computers 15 years from now 50 times faster, Mr. Gates said last week that the "most interesting" software challenge is to create interactive computer programs with human characteristics that give them the capacity to "see, listen and learn."
While current computers already provide a deluge of online information, researchers are working on customized computers that would not only help a consumer decide which movie to see this weekend, but also would check back to ask "did you go?" or "how did you like it?" The chatty computer could "visually recognize users' expressions and gestures" in addition to their spoken words, Mr. Gates said.
"The toughest problem ... of all is to make a computer that learns," the 41-year-old computer-industry leader told a crowded gathering of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He said efforts were under way at Microsoft Research, the company's research arm, to "mimic the solution nature designed," but "we don't have a basic approach yet." Current software programs, such as interactive chess games, involve brute force, Mr. Gates said, but not true learning.