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Input Evolution

The technology behind mice, keyboards and other computing peripherals is older than you think. Here's a sneak peek at what the future holds.

Contemplate the computer mouse for a moment. You can now get a wireless one with optical technology, a scroll wheel, or extra buttons. The features are new, but the concept is basically the same as the original mouse. "[The mouse] goes back 50 years, so it's getting pretty old," says Fariborz Ghadar, consultant and founding director of Penn State's Center for Global Business Studies.

What new technologies are on the horizon for computer input devices? In the short term, the tablet PC pen is an example of where input is heading. "I think the pen is going to take off because we're all used to writing with pens and pencils," says Ghadar. "The tablet allows you to bypass the keyboard to a certain extent."

Perhaps in the next decade, we will see a world without clunky input peripherals. Think Star Trek. Think about your voice. "The next logical thing is for the mouse to disappear and to have a voice-activated computer," Ghadar says. Voice recognition software has been around for years, but it has been fairly primitive, requires a lot of training and hasn't found widespread adoption. This will change as the technology improves and edges into the mainstream.

Now let's look out a little further. Development for futuristic computer input is already underway. Cyberkinetics Neurotechnology Systems Inc. is working on neural interfaces for computers so users can control their machines through a brain implant. Also in its initial phases is an eye-tracking technology in which a cursor is controlled by eye movements. Tobii, a Swedish company, is at the forefront of this innovative technology.

Expect it to take some years for computer users to get used to the idea of abandoning mice and keyboards. At the same time, the technology that replaces them--whether it's digital pens, voice recognition, eye-tracking or even neural implants--will need to mature, gain accuracy and come down in price.

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This article was originally published in the March 2007 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Input Evolution.

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