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The Next Computing Revolution Will Take Us Beyond the Screen, but in Which Direction?

Monday - 4/1/2013, 11:30pm  ET

There's a war going on out there. It's not the war for mobile between Apple and Google , with everyone else launching half-hearted sallies at an occasional exposed flank. No, this war may have more far-reaching implications: It's over the delivery of your digital experience. Will the future be spread out before you in full 3-D like the iconic Star Trek holodeck, or embedded with your inner life, unique and unseen to anyone else? Let's see where the major players stand on this battlefield, and what their stances might mean for the future of computing.

Open immersion: the holodeck approach
The holodeck was one of Star Trek's favorite plot-filling devices across multiple series after its introduction in the Patrick Stewart-led Next Generation. It's easy to see why. When you can create virtually any environment, with nearly any possible cast of characters, a trek through the final frontier can easily become a musing on loyalty in the Old West, or the nature of artificial intelligence, or a way to get your favorite android to play poker with historical intellectuals -- or anything else you can imagine, really. We're nowhere near the total immersion experienced by Star Trek's characters on the matter-manipulating holodeck, but we do have the early underpinnings of immersion already in place.

Microsoft has been an early proponent of the projected display, which resulted in the OmniTouch project in 2011, and, more recently, the IllumiRoom, which is the closest thing to a "holodeck" our 21st-century technology can come to Star Trek's 24th-century wizardry. Here's a video of the IllumiRoom in action: