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Q&A: Natural user interface defines future of unified communications

Microsoft's UC vice president Gurdeep Singh Pall says the 'natural user interface' will soon make the keyboard and mouse seem archaic.

Editor's Note: Enterprises may feel as though they're just starting to get a grasp on basic elements of unified communications (UC) -- voice over IP, unified messaging and collaborative platforms -- but development labs are moving at a much faster clip. The dawn of the "natural user interface" will soon make the keyboard and mouse seem archaic, according to Gurdeep Singh Pall, corporate vice president of the unified communications group at Microsoft, who recently spoke to about his vision for the future of unified communications.

Singh Pall
Gurdeep Singh Pall
Corporate Vice President of Unified Communications Microsoft

What kind of changes are you seeing in unified communications today?

Communications today or in the past have been locked to a separate device, which sits on the desk or a mobile phone and can go into your hand as well. But the reality is the work we are doing is really many times in front of us on a screen.… With unified communications and software, we can tie the audio channel, the video channel and my screen together in a much more productive and interesting way. 

What kind of effect will the Internet have on the future of unified communications?

Thanks to the Internet, we've seen the world is flat. We've seen economies coming together, talent coming together -- people are [working together from] all over the world…. On the Internet, software is like Velcro. Two pieces of software can stick together in very interesting ways you could never do before. If there's one explanation of why this transformation with the Internet happens, it's because of software.

[For example], GE Healthcare has gone in and integrated a lot of [its] radiology tools. Whereas an earlier adopter would be looking at this film of an X-ray, now a doctor is looking at this 3-D object with one click, and he can [virtually] bring in doctors in other locations to see it and [collaborate]. 

How will we see a natural user interface develop and evolve, and what does it mean for the future of unified communications?

I don't want anybody to ever use a keyboard and mouse again.
Gurdeep Singh Pall
Corporate Vice President of Unified Communications Microsoft

You will see speech become very, very relevant. I think we've literally taught two generations of people to use the keyboard and to use the mouse, and we're getting to the point where gesture, touch and speech are going to be very, very transformative with how we interact -- not only how we interact with the computer, but how we interact with each other on these natural user interfaces.

We talk, we use gestures, we use expressions, and because of the limitations of technology, we've pretty much trained people to start using these systems by typing and by using the mouse…. I don't want anybody to ever use a keyboard and mouse again. I want them to interact with applications and with people through the computer using the ability to have expressions, to talk, to touch -- that's what this whole natural user interface is about. 

What will all these changes in UC mean for how we live and work, or rather, where we live and work?

I think what we are going through is such a profound transformation. It is going to undo things that actually happened in the Industrial Revolution days. In the Industrial Revolution, some profound changes happened -- this whole idea that people had to physically get up from wherever they lived … and they started moving to where the factories were.

I think now you will see movement going in the other direction. People are going to say, 'I can work with anybody I want without any compromise of rich communication and collaboration wherever I am, so I am going to choose whatever is convenient for me and my family,' rather than having to move nearer to work…. There is that whole idea of 'going into work,' and we all sit in our cars and drive to work or we sit on trains for an hour. This idea will seem really, really old…. You'll see people commute a lot less and work from wherever [they] are. I think this is going to have a profound effect on the things we care about, such as our carbon footprint and how much we are going to save on emissions.

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Jessica Scarpati, News Writer

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