If Bill Gates is hoping for a quiet retirement he may find it interrupted by technology.
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer envisages being able to call out the Microsoft co-founder's name and have an advanced IT system spring into action and track Gates down anywhere on the planet within the next 10 years -- and he wants to give us the same power too.
"In the next few years I know I'll be watching my favorite golfer, Tiger Woods, play in a tournament and I'll see him hit a particularly brilliant shot," Ballmer said at a Tokyo news conference on Thursday. "I'll shout at my television set, 'Hey Bill, did you see Tiger make that putt?' and Microsoft software will wake up in the TV, it will recognize my voice, it will know when I say 'Bill' I mean Bill Gates, it'll find him wherever he is, it will see whether he's willing to be interrupted for the call."
"He'll say 'Of course, for Steve I'm always able to be interrupted'," said Ballmer. "'Hey Bill, did you see Tiger make that putt?' Maybe Bill will say, 'Yes Steve, but what golf ball is he using?' I'll literally take my finger and I'll point at the golf ball, a search will go on across the Internet to figure out what ball it is, and I'll say 'Hey Bill, that's the new Nike ball, shall I order some for you too?'"
Interacting with contacts via a television set ties in to Microsoft's recently announced "Three screens, one cloud" vision that sees customers using PCs, TVs, and cellular phones to access data and applications stored on servers, both real and virtual, residing on the Internet or "the cloud" as it is becoming known.
Ballmer predicted the technology is just a "few years" away, although development seldom brings about such advances in a short time. While many of the necessary building blocks in voice recognition, user interface and artificial intelligence already exist, tying them together and getting them to work reliably could be a significant task.
"The next five or 10 years will be amazing," he said. "Ten years from now when we sit together we'll look back and we'll say, 'Wasn't technology primitive in 2009? Computers didn't recognize our speech, our voice, our intention. We didn't have instantaneous access to the world's information. We've gotten rid of paper as a means of note taking and communication.'"
Earlier in the week Microsoft announced plans to launch a project to forge closer ties with Japanese universities. Its Microsoft Research unit will start a number of initiatives intended to put Microsoft money to work on projects being studied in Japan, bring Japanese scientists into its own research labs and promote information exchange within the research community.
"The world has so much to invent in this industry and I'm very excited about what Microsoft is doing to drive that innovation," he said.