Who will be the winner in the next computing revolution?

January 5, 2017 by Toby Walsh, The Conversation
Artificial intelligence will unleash computers from behind screens. Credit: Shutterstock

A computer's operating system, the layer of software between you and the hardware, has changed remarkably over the past few decades. At the beginning a user had to interact with levers and switches, then came screens and DOS, the Apple's Macintosh and Microsoft's Windows, and, finally, the internet.

These slowly wormed their way into our lives and changed the way we do almost everything. But the OS of the future is going to be something different entirely. The next step is , and there's a land rush going on. Just think of how profitable Microsoft's control of the previous epoch was.

How operating systems evolved

In the 70s, many of us cut our teeth with command line systems like MS-DOS, CP/M and Unix. Just imagine the black screens with green type. You could type almost meaningful commands like "cp" to copy a file. This was pretty geeky, but a little less than physical switches.

In the 80s, computing moved over to graphical interfaces like Mac OS and Windows where you could simply point and click. Want to delete a file? Simply drag it into the bin. What could be simpler? Computing was no longer just for geeks. Almost anyone could do it.

In the 90s, computing became more connected. The internet took off and the browser became king. Indeed, Google have made a whole Operating System out of this, Chrome OS.

And more recently, computing became mobile and moved onto apps on our smartphones. Some of these apps and services started branching out, creating their own little worlds to bring together developers and users. There is probably no better example than the Chinese app WeChat, which has thousands of applications, from social networking through buying airline tickets.

You might not realize it but the next revolution in Operating Systems is now under way. And the technology giants like Microsoft, Apple and Google are racing to be the winner.

The new race

Late last year Google announced a series of hardware products. There was Google Home speaker, Pixel smartphone, and the virtual reality headset Daydream View. But Google isn't going to make billions out of hardware like this. Software is a much better business to be in. It scales so much more easily.

No, Google is producing this hardware just as a means of getting its AI-based Google Assistant into our homes and our pockets. Assistant is baked into all of these products, and through it, Google wants to be at the centre of our lives, however we connect.

Conversational assistants like Assistant and Apple's Siri and Amazon's Alexa are the Operating System of the future. No more typing. No more pointing. The power of Artificial Intelligence will be harnessed to serve our needs.

"Get me on the next flight to Canberra, Google".

"Who's the President of Switzerland, Siri?"

"Play me that jazz saxonophist that I like, Alexa."

In many cases, there won't be a keyboard in sight. We'll walk into some new room and say "Turn on the lights" and expect someone will be listening. Sorry, something will be listening.

We'll sit it our car and simply announce "start the ignition". We'll get into a lift and command "top floor, please". We'll walk into the bathroom and say "run me a bath".

Screens will disappear. In its place, will be conversations. Conversations that will follow us from room to room, to car, to office and to bed.

The knock on effects of all this will be huge. The loss of screens will mean digital advertising must be rethought. The rise of conversation will impact search and online networking. Whoever wins the race to define this new will take the lead in all of this.

Winners and losers

This is an exciting future. There are plenty of opportunities for the bold. To build a watch that doubles as your . Sunglasses that tell you when you've had too much sun. A weighing scale that offers advice about your diet.

The likely winners are companies like Google, Microsoft, Facebook, or Amazon because they are the first movers, and the theory of network effects mean their products will likely rapidly improve.

The likely losers are privacy, diversity and democracy. The NSA can't wait for every room to be listening. Marketers can't wait to see all this data on our everyday lives.

Explore further: How Amazon Echo listens and what it stores

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3 comments

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EyeNStein
4 / 5 (1) Jan 05, 2017
The customers will get stuck in a minefield of forced options, like Bing on Siri, and irritating incompatibles like Windows 10 detecting but not projecting to a 'same standards' Android TV.

While the OS itself does less useful work: Win 10 no longer plays a DVD and assistively reads out loud anything but the text filling the screen in front of you.

The first OS to understand "NO DONT DO THAT" and obeys will be the winner.
JamesG
not rated yet Jan 13, 2017
This will be another area where tech companies are going to try to force is to like what they are selling. Who wants someone knowing everything you search for on the internet? It's like smoking. You can't do this without intruding into someone else's space.
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Jan 13, 2017
The knock on effects of all this will be huge. The loss of screens will mean digital advertising must be rethought.

I'm not so sure. the place I work at is periodically revisting voice controls for their software, and it never takes off. Professionals say they feel like doofuses when talking to a machine - and if the environment is noisy then repeating an instruction can quickly become much less economical than doing it manually.

There are places where it's nice to have, though (e.g. last year I coded a voice recognition software so I could activate game commmands. It's surprisingly easy to do with today's frameworks. Spent at least 5 times more on the GUI to define new voice commands than on the actual voice recognition part). Especially with VR - where you don't have line of sight to a keyboard - I can see voice controls being useful.

As for an advertising rethink when screens disappear? I hope it drops dead.

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