By Barry Levine / CIO Today. Updated August 31, 2012.
Imagine a post-app world, where computing devices surround you and understand your needs before you open an app. That's long been the dream of science fiction, but Advanced Micro Device's Chief Technology Officer Mark Papermaster thinks that such a dream is a realistic destination.
Papermaster shared his vision for what he called Surround Computing at the Hot Chips semiconductor design conference, which ended Wednesday in Cupertino, Calif.
Papermaster said the industry's last 10 to 20 years have been used to develop computing capability to simulate reality, and the next decade or two will be focused on providing the capabilities to interpret content and contexts in order to provide better experiences.
The Surround Computing Era, he said, is multi-platform, ranging from eyeglasses to room-sized computing devices. It's also fluid, with realistic output and natural human input, and it's intelligent, anticipating human needs.
This kind of computing, he said, "imagines a world without keyboards or mice, where natural user interfaces based on voice and facial recognition redefine the PC experience," and where devices deliver "contextual insight and value," even as they "disappear seamlessly into the background."
In his view, natural user interfaces will go beyond Microsoft's gestural and facial recognition controller Kinect, and beyond Siri's intelligent voice agent, which, by themselves, already fill out many sci-fi visions. Papermaster is intending to build systems that also employ fingerprints and tactile information, and that can interpret facial expressions and speech better than current technology.
He told The Wall Street Journal that "it's going to be a tsunami" driven by "this inexorable growth of all these sensing devices around us."
This barrage of sensual information could overwhelm current servers, which brings us to AMD's plan to achieve this nirvana.
Papermaster said that AMD is developing CPUs to support Heterogeneous System Architecture, which could support the necessary workloads and which provides for assignments of different workloads to different computational components. HSA, seeking to become a standard, currently has been supported by ARM, Texas Instruments, MediaTek, and Imagination Technologies, in addition to AMD.
But, while he told the conference that such capability was not far way, he said that it would take an "industry movement" to get there. It would involve not just chip makers, of course, but cloud hosting providers, bandwidth providers, computer makers, application developers and others.
AMD has been devoting more and more of its processors' power to graphics, and the company has indicated that, at some point, it might allow customers the option of adding processing capabilities from ARM designs, widely used in mobile devices.
Papermaster came to AMD from IBM, where he had been an executive. IBM is also spearheading a vision of the next generation in intelligent computing, although it is tangibly ahead of Papermaster's vision.
Recently, IBM vice president Bernie Meyerson said that his company was working on turning the Jeopardy-winning Watson computing system into a backend, intelligent voice agent for smartphones and other devices. In short, Apple's Siri, but on steroids.