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Goldstuck on Gadgets

Sci-Fi re-imagines the future

SF met SF when Intel Labs demonstrated in San Francisco last week how Science Fiction is used to re-imagine the future. ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK tells the story.

They say the future isn’t what it used to be. The wildest imaginings of science fiction visionaries tend to give way to the dull reality of daily lives. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

That appeared to be the simple thought behind a new approach to imagining the future, presented in San Francisco last week by computer chip maker Intel.

At the annual Intel Developer Forum (IDF), kicking off this past Tuesday just a block away from where Apple was about to unveil its new iPhone the next day, large banners declared: ‚”New horizons invented here‚”.

Inside, researchers from Intel Labs discussed a vision of the future that goes beyond a mere handheld device. Paradoxically, it was a vision firmly grounded in the technology of today and therefore of a future that is entirely possible rather than based on wishful thinking.

Some of the more conventional ideas were pulled right out of science fiction dreams. For example, a demonstration titled Display Without Boundaries showed how a combination of a data projector and an Xbox Kinect gaming device, with a software adaptation, could turn any surface into an interactive touchscreen display. The photos could be pulled out of your own collection or from social media streams like Twitter and Facebook, to create a collage of photos or a single wall-sized image on any surface.

I tried it myself. With a swipe of my hand, I flipped through images on a wall and resized them. The science-fiction concept of a full-sized video or scenery wall in every home was suddenly alive, in my hands, with a social media twist.

Perhaps this is merely the digital photo frame reinvented, using common household objects found in any high-tech research lab, but it is also about how the future is imagined.

According to Intel ‚”futurist‚” Brian David Johnson, it is about using science fiction as a tool to explore real world implications and uses of future technologies today.

Johnson drives an Intel initiative called the Tomorrow Project (see, which attempts to answer the question, ‚”What future do you want to live in?‚” Most of us don’t know the answer, but we do know that we want technology to make our lives easier and more efficient.

On a mass-market scale, Intel hopes to address that desire with a new computer chip to be released next year. Codenamed Haswell, it will power a new generation of super-thin Ultrabook computers. The chip will be able to run a computer for twice as long as the equivalent devices on the market today.

Coming down to day-to-day problems, the computers themselves will become among many other things wireless charging sources for mobile phones. Right now, wireless charging works with a technology called induction, which requires a device to lie on top of the charger, but with a power accessory plugged into the phone.

The amount of effort and equipment that requires means you may as well plug in a normal charger.

But now, using ‚”resonance‚” technology, a phone can be fitted with a phoneback containing a small coil, and merely put down alongside an adapted Ultrabook. You arrive at home or in the office, put the phone down next to the computer, and pick it up a while later, fully charged.

It is such practical but much-needed innovations that really add up to the future most of us want. But the science fiction dreams persist. One of those is trying on clothing and accessories without ever stepping into a store. In the past, this was achieved through submitting measurements and watching an avatar with your shape trying on the items.

An exhibitor at the IDF technology showcase this week took the concept further into the future. TryLive uses a normal webcam in an Ultrabook computer to capture an image of your face. It then ‚”watches‚” you, using your live image to show how different spectacles will appear on your face. As you tilt your head from side to side, your image on the screen moves to show what the glasses look like from different angles.

Again, there is nothing new to the technology itself. The way it is being used, though, shows that the future is as much about new ways of imagining as it is about new technology.

* Arthur Goldstuck is editor-in-chief of Gadget. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee

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