The end of geography and the beginning of the future

The over-quoted suggestion by cyberpunk writer William Gibson that “the future is here, it's just not evenly distributed yet" is actually wrong when it comes to the future of the personal computer and the Internet. True, the future has arrived,  but it's surprisingly evenly distributed.  You can find the future of personal computers and the Internet at banks, in movie theaters and supermarkets, in motorcars and aircrafts, on cellphones and digital music players. This future is all around us; indeed, one reason why most of us haven't noticed it is because of its ubiquity.

That future is touch.

In a 1994 interview on Swedish television, William Gibson said "when you use the Internet you enter a realm in which geography no longer exist." Yes and no. The Internet itself, in its spatial anarchism, lacks conventional geography. But to get to the Internet and to navigate it, we have, till now, been dependent on the keyboard and the mouse, two very traditional instruments of geographical exploration. But now the keyboard and mouse are about to be replaced by the human finger as the gateway to the Internet. With touch technology, we've arrived at the end of geography. The future of the Internet is the coming together of the real and virtual. Yet this is no cyber-dream -- anyone can now go down to their local electronics store and touch the future.

In contrast with the much hyped and historically insignificant Web 2.0 "revolution", touch technology has crept up on us almost unannounced. Our fingers are becoming the key interface in managing the technology of our daily lives. In America, we use touch technology every day to do our ATM banking and pay for our groceries, get our boarding passes at airports and organize our lives on our mobile devices. Today, touch technology dominates the interface of Apple's iPod Touch and the iPhone, their iconic new cellular phone which is projected to sell 45 million units in 2009. And now touch technology is about to revolutionize the personal computer.

Ironically, the future existed before the past, touch technology predating the keyboard and mouse combination of the first personal computer. In 1983, a year before Apple came out with the first successful personal computer, the Mac, Hewlett-Packard introduced its touchscreen HP 150 PC, a touchscreen product a quarter century ahead of its time. Since then, HP -- which has a 40 person team dedicated to developing this technology -- has continued to pioneer touch with innovative products like its iPAQ pocket PC and Tablet notebook PCs. But HP's historic breakthrough in touch was the introduction, 18 months ago, of their first generation TouchSmart all-in-one computer. And now HP have introduced its second-generation TouchSmart, a powerful and elegant machine with a more mature new touch layer interface that makes the finger, rather than the mouse and keyboard, its central navigational device.

HP is not alone, of course, in pioneering touch technology. There are persistent rumors in Silicon Valley that Apple is about to take the touch technology from its iPhone and add it to a new range of laptops. Meanwhile Microsoft are already promising touch-screen controls in the 2010 release of their Windows 7 operating system. So now it's the big boys of the hardware and software business who are seriously driving the future. After a succession of false dawns, this revolutionary touch technology is just about ready for primetime.

It may yet take ten or even twenty more years to fully mature, but touch technology is about to radically alter the way we all interface with the Internet. Personal computing is about to get a lot more personal. Replacing the mouse and keyboard with our fingers will do away with the boundaries between man and the machine. Touch technology enables us to travel through the infinity of cyberspace using our body as a navigational tool. Online communications, commerce, sex, learning, security, entertainment and information will all be fundamentally revolutionized. We have arrived at the end of geography and the beginning of the future.