Welcome to the Post-PC Era

Handheld and Embedded Devices Will Redefine 21st Century Computing, Says Top Researcher

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NEW YORK - 14 Jan 1999: -- Network-connected automobiles that manufacturers repair and update wirelessly, virtual jam sessions with legendary jazz musicians, and powerful supercomputers that greatly speed up the design of life-saving drugs. These are just a few of the technology breakthroughs that will dramatically change computing in the 21st century, says the top researcher at IBM Corporation.

Dr. Paul M. Horn, senior vice president of IBM Research, told an audience of industry leaders gathered at "21" in New York City that after more than 15 years as the center of the computing universe, the PC is about to give way to a new breed of handheld and embedded devices that will dramatically change the way people communicate and share information.

"The era of the PC as king is over," Horn told the "21" crowd. "We are entering an era of 'pervasive computing' in which we will see a dramatic increase in the use of application- specific hand-held and embedded devices to conduct e-business and simplify our lives."

Horn has ample resources to back up his claims -- he oversees the efforts of close to 3,000 researchers at eight laboratories worldwide on what will be the two defining technologies of the 21st century -- "pervasive computing" and "deep computing."

IBM is already at work on pervasive computing technologies that will enable a million companies and a billion users connected by trillions of devices to conduct transactions each day, according to Horn.

Pervasive computing isn't about the gadgets, Dr. Horn told his "21" audience. "The real excitement," he observed, "lies in companies and manufacturers taking full advantage of the e-business opportunities presented by this new model of computing. This is fundamentally going to change the way people send and receive information."

Dr. Horn cites the example of a totally networked car in which automobile manufacturers will be able to download service upgrades wirelessly to embedded microprocessors and miniature computers.

A second major trend lies in what Dr. Horn terms "deep computing." "It is a reflection of the unprecedented progress we've made in raw computing power, advanced software and sophisticated mathematical algorithms," explained Dr. Horn. "It will help us tackle massive challenges such as the mapping of genes, accelerated design of life-saving drugs and pinpoint weather forecasting."

Among the futuristic technologies from IBM's labs demonstrated to the "21" audience were fully functional wearable PCs the size of portable cassette players, an advanced display technology that offers four times the clarity and resolution of today's desktop PCs, and a natural language understanding system that allows computers to understand and respond in context to spoken commands.

The Millennium Speakers Series, held monthly at "21," 21 West 52nd Street in New York, is a special forum for some 100 guests allowing speakers to share their vision of the coming century with leaders in the fields of entertainment, business and politics. Scheduled to appear in the coming months are Tom Brokaw, Frank McCort, Michael Bloomberg and Dr. Henry Kissinger.

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