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RSA: Computing's future is in the eyes

18 Feb 2011

Future systems will fundamentally alter the relationship between humans and computers, creating an augmented reality that will take over the world, according to a renowned physicist.

Michio Kaku, co-creator of string theory, explained in his keynote address to the RSA Conference that the cost of some chips will fall to 1p in as little as 10 years' time, and processing power will be added to huge numbers of objects, including spectacles and contact lenses.

The US military is currently trialling such systems, including a pair of glasses that overlays information on the outside world, showing the position of friendly and enemy troops and providing satellite imagery and real-time information updates.

The University of Washington in Seattle, meanwhile, has successfully tested a contact lens with an embedded processor that takes the technology further.

"Virtual reality is for children. Augmented reality is the future of computing," said Kaku, adding that such systems are already being trialled in China.

Tourists visiting the ruins of the Summer Palace outside Beijing can now use goggles to see the palace as it was. As costs fall and technology advances, the systems will become commonplace, according to Kaku.

The cheapness of computing power will also have health benefits. Scientists have already developed 'smart pills' that contain a processor and a camera that can be guided through the body using magnets.

Smart toilets are also under development that analyse body waste for proteins that indicate the presence of cancer in the body, while new molecules have already been made which target and kill cancer cells.

"We may well find that the English language loses the word 'tumour'," said Kaku.

Cheap and flexible organic LED screens could eventually cost as little as scrap paper, allowing a host of devices from smart wallpaper that can change interior décor, to rooms covered with screens that allow everyone to live in an augmented reality.

However, Kaku warned that there is still a long way to go. Artificial intelligence is still in its infancy, and it will be some time before machines can out-think humans.

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Iain Thomson

Iain Thomson is the US editor of based in San Francisco. Iain has been a part of the team since 2002 and was previously technical editor of PC Magazine, reviews editor of PC Advisor and editor of Aviation Informatics. He also appears as an occasional commentator on BBC television and radio, ITV and Bloomberg.



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