Future Watch

BOSTON (05/23/2000) - In visiting one of IBM Corp.'s research labs some time ago, I was entertained by all manner of cool gadgets and various works in progress. Many will never see the light of product rollout or have fairy-tale marketing copy penned in their honor. The one I vividly remember - and keep watching for - was a car phone that could access your e-mail or your favorite Web site and read the contents back to you. It responded to voice commands such as "delete" or "read the next one." It was something that I never knew I always wanted.

I thought of that still-elusive technology last week, as I was reading the first of the Future Watch features in our Technology section. Brent Lowensohn, director of advanced technologies at Kaiser Permanente Information Technology, was talking about his interest in 10 Gigabit Ethernet. "The most exciting part of this is the real potential that something we never thought of is going to come into our lives," he said about this tenfold increase over current networking speeds.

Future Watch's mission is to give you glimpses of tantalizingly possible technology, the stuff you dream about using but can't quite get your hands on.

Not yet, anyway. In considering what to cover in the new weekly section, we'll keep in mind what Albert Einstein once said: "If at first the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it."

Consider the story about Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute, where experts envision things like a tiny robot you flush down the toilet to inspect sewer pipes. In only a few years, the market for highly specialized robotic devices might be as unexpectedly hot as Internet auction sites are today.

Already wandering the halls at Carnegie Mellon is a mobile robot that startles visitors by asking them to push the elevator button - showing how the best robots are the ones smart enough to ask for help.

We'll take a hint from that robot ourselves, in fact. If you have suggestions for Future Watch topics, assistant technology editor Tommy Peterson (tommy_peterson@computerworld.com) would welcome your thoughts and ideas. We hope this new weekly feature will give you something that you never knew you always wanted.

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