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Imagination-defying innovation is on the horizon.

With the pace at which computer technology is advancing, it is difficult to imagine what the office of the future will look - or sound - like.

Manufacturers are now making computers with built-in speakers in anticipation of voice-activation technology.

There are computers that fit in a pocket, and others that recognize handwriting.

Virtual reality (the creation of powerful experiences with computer interaction), robots and artificial intelligence defy the imagination.

Yet, it is imagination that will continue to guide automation in the near and distant future.

"How much do you think NASA is influenced by Star Trek?" asks professor David Goforth, who teaches a course in artificial intelligence at Laurentian University in Sudbury.

Today, however, a number of obstacles are slowing down the utopian dreams of science fiction writers.

"Word processing is still the main thing computers are used for," says Steve Willell, a consultant with Computers Now in Sudbury.

The most common personal computers of today are running at speeds of 33 megahertz, but humans cannot type as fast as four megahertz, he explains.

Even faster computers are being developed (Intel is expected to launch its new 586 chip in September), and consultants agree that they will enhance networking systems and other existing technologies such as windows, voice recognition and imaging analysis.

"In the next two to three years process routes will be speeded up by a factor of 10 to 20 times," predicts Steve Beynon, acting director of computer services for Laurentian University.

Beynon expects that students will be able to register for university courses over the phone within three years by using a combination of voice-activated computers and the touch-tone phone.

But even the faster, more powerful computers will have their limitations. Communications networks, for example, will be limited by the physical nature of electricity and wires, Willell explains.

"The higher the frequency, the more problem you have getting a signal across due to the capacitance of the wire," he explains.

Another bottleneck for the faster computer is the not-so-speedy printer, Willell adds.

"Finding applications for the new, faster computers may take some time."

Tim Durling, a sales representative at MicroAge Computer Centre in Sudbury, says notebook computers have become popular with business people.

"Everyone's travelling a lot now, and they want to take their computer with them," Durling says.

Smaller than a laptop computer, notebooks start in the $1,800 range.

Modems for computer communications are also popular, and for about $800 each many customers are also buying upgrade kits to allow them to use compact disc (CD) technology, he adds.

Bruce Hennessy, sales manager for The AMS Group in Sudbury, says CD-ROMS are one of the fastest growing markets.

The education sector is already reaping the benefits of CD-ROM technology because a single compact disc can store an entire encyclopedia, for example.

Brian Tramontini, a consultant with Hexagon Computer Systems Inc. in Sudbury, believes the future will see a blending of consumer electronics and information technology.

A current example of this blending is Apple Computer's Newton, a pen-based, hand-held system which weighs less than one pound. Newton's screen is an infinitely scrolling notepad.

However, Durling believes that pen-based systems and notebooks are still seen as "accessories" for those who already own larger computers.

Willell believes that any widespread application of computer animation and graphics is still a long way off due to the memory limitations of today's computers.

"With high-resolution graphics today, you're looking at 10,000 to 16,000 bytes with each screen. With animation, you'd require a new screen with every motion," he explains.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Laurentian Business Publishing, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Computer Report; computer technology
Author:Pearsall, Kathryn
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Date:Aug 1, 1992
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