A Vision of Computing 30 Years in the Making

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My first portable device was a luggable Compaq, followed by a streamlined Toshiba model in the mid-1980s. But their heavy weight had me fantasizing about a computing model that would make it unnecessary to carry a laptop everywhere.

I envisioned a "Computing Brick" that would allow me to connect to a screen in hotels, on airplane seats, mounted on walls at home, or dedicated monitors in the office. Each location would have a connector and keyboard for input, and even back then I felt it would need to have a wireless connection to the monitor and peripherals so I would not to have to carry a lot of cords with me.

The brick would have the CPU, OS, memory, storage, and all of the relevant wireless connections so that the only thing I would carry with me would be the brick itself and a cord to plug in to a power source.

When I first wrote about this in a UK-based publication in late 1989, I got messages from around the world asking how long before I thought we would see something like this. Others just though I was delusional, though many acknowledged it would be an ideal way to deliver a computing experience in the future.

Of course, the technology to deliver on this vision was not available then. Even today it's not quite there yet, though we're getting closer. A video created by Corning, for example, shows all types of glass surfaces as touch screens, which deliver data, video, and music. But as you look at this visionary view of computing, it is not clear to me where these glass screens and surfaces get their intelligence. Most represent flat screens or surfaces and are used to display various forms of digital data. There does not seem any place to embed a CPU, storage, or other components.

But imagine if a smartphone or other device could mirror its display on any screen with which it comes into contact? Any smart screen would be your personal computing display.

While this idea may still be far-fetched, I sense we may be moving in this direction. While some screens could become smarter, most will be dumb in the sense that they just serve as displays. This will be especially true in many IoT devices. And the cloud will become a powerful resource for tapping into stored data, information, and applications on an as-needed basis. But we still need the computing power behind this to deliver these various bits of data, images, and video that would be displayed on these screens.

Interestingly, mobile CPUs are already getting close to the same power levels we have in PCs today, and there is a lot of work going on in wireless display connections that could very shortly power this vision. There are still a lot of hurdles to get over for this to work seamlessly, but for the first time since I had this idea of a "computing brick," I can actually see the technology becoming a reality.

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