Gates Says Technology Will One Day Allow Computer Implants -- But Hardwiring's Not For Him

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SINGAPORE (AP) -- Technological advances will one day allow computers to be implanted in the human body -- and could help the blind see and the deaf hear -- Bill Gates said Friday. But the Microsoft chairman says he's not ready to be hardwired.

"One of the guys that works at Microsoft ... always says to me 'I'm ready, plug me in,"' Gates said at a Microsoft seminar in Singapore. "I don't feel quite the same way. I'm happy to have the computer over there and I'm over here."

Meshing people directly with computers has been a science fiction subject for years, from downloading memories onto computer chips to replacement robotic limbs controlled by brain waves.

The fantasy is coming closer to reality as advances in technology mean computers are learning to interact with human characteristics such as voices, touch -- even smell.

Gates, whose Redmond, Washington-based company is spending more than US$6 billion (euro4.95 billion) on research and development this year to stay a world leader in software development, was asked at the seminar whether he thought computers would ever be implanted in the human brain.

He noted that cochlear implants and other medical implants were already being used to treat hearing problems and some conditions that cause constant pain, and were changing some people's lives dramatically.

Cochlear implants, which employ digital pulses that the brain interprets as sound, can help profoundly deaf people hear.

Advances were also being made on implants that can help fix eyesight problems, Gates said.

These types of technologies would continue to be improved and expanded, especially in areas where they would be "correcting deficiencies," he said.

"We will have those capabilities," Gates said.

He cited author Ray Kurzweil, whom he called the best at predicting the future of artificial intelligence, as believing that such computer-human links would become mainstream -- though probably not for several generations.

Gates also predicted that the keyboard won't be replaced by voice recognition software, and that the pen will make a comeback -- although without ink. The three would form the basic ways people will interact with their computers in the future, he said.

He said when computer pen technology -- scratching words onto a screen that a computer tries to read -- gets more sophisticated it will do things like let people draw musical notes and chemical signs, as well as recognize handwriting.

"Some people today underestimate the pen, because that recognition software is at an early stage," Gates said. "But it's on a very fast learning curve."

Speech would probably become the main way to input information in mobile devices, though Gates noted the huge popularity of mobile phone short messages services -- used almost fanatically across Asia.

"In some cases -- mobile phones -- speech will be the primary input (because) either the pen or the keyboard is a bit tough -- although a lot of young people are awfully good with that little keyboard," Gates said.


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