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Microsoft says QWERTY keyboards ‘will die out’ in the near future

Dave Coplin, Microsoft’s Chief Envisioning Officer, made the comments in an interview with Evening Standard. Coplin noted it’s “bizarre” that the dominant input method for 21st-century devices is typing technology developed in the 19th century. As interfaces have progressed enormously, the shape of computer input has changed very little.
“We have these amazing computers that we essentially use like we’re still Victorians,” said Coplin. “The QWERTY keyboard is a great example of an old design being brought forward to modern day. We’ve not really evolved. We still use this sub-optimal design.”
In recent years, that has begun to change. Particularly in the mobile landscape, a different set of input methods has taken root. The rise of touchscreens has begun to spell an end for the keyboard and mouse, although most people still use QWERTY keyboards in a touch form even on their smartphones.
It’s the growing impact of digital assistants such as Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana and Google Now that are a more serious threat to the keyboard, according to Coplin. He expects voice dictation and command to be a much bigger thing in the future. With voice recognition technology now improving very rapidly, Coplin sees it as only a matter of time before QWERTY dies out for most people.
Microsoft doesn’t expect voice alone to become the primary input method for computers. It also thinks that gesture recognition and facial tracking will become increasingly important. It has already begun its own work in this field. Windows Hello encourages computer users to ditch their typed passwords in favour of a fingerprint or face scan. In this way, the keyboard will become more of a secondary input device in the future, accompanying currently emerging input methods.
“We’re looking at technologies now like voice and gesture recognition, and facial tracking that may make the keyboard redundant,” Coplin said. “We think that computers in the not-too-distant future will be able to understand all of those things and infer on my behalf my intent, meaning and objective that I’m trying to do.”
Coplin also works on Microsoft’s Cortana digital assistant. He has experienced first-hand the increasing power of voice recognition technology. Two weeks ago, Microsoft announced it has reached a milestone in the development of more accurate speech detection software. Its algorithm achieved the lowest word error rate ever observed in the industry, an accuracy that comes close to rivalling human listening abilities.
For all the growing advantages of new input methods, there are some drawbacks that could keep keyboards around for a lot longer than predicted. It’s difficult to see office workers routinely dictating to their computers, for example. Keyboard input is likely to retain a significant presence in scenarios involving lengthy writing and collaborative work.
Voice recognition and gesture detection may be more applicable to task-based scenarios, such as checking the weather, ordering a taxi or writing a quick email to a colleague. The shape of technology even a decade in the future cannot be predicted, however. Just ten years ago, touchscreen phones were a niche rarity.
Coplin thinks the next digital era will be the rise of machine learning and the subsequent time savings generated for humans. Chatbots and intelligent services will allow us to automate things that would usually require direct attention, further evolving our interactions with a computer.

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