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Your desk, chair are watching you

Office of the future will be super smart

By Julie Clothier for CNN
Sensors and displays will be embedded into walls and furniture in the office of the future.
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Technology (general)

(CNN) -- It is the year 2020 and you are sitting at your desk about to begin work for the day.

At first glance, your office does not look much different to how it looked 15 years earlier, in 2005.

But look a little closer and you will notice several changes, including sensors and displays embedded in the furniture, which know when you arrive in the office and will automatically bring up your computer settings.

The wallpaper, or images on walls at least, will change color and pattern depending on your mood and preferences, even letting colleagues know whether you can be interrupted.

You will probably communicate with your computer more via speech than typing.

By 2020, technology will have made such rapid progress, that speech recognition by a computer will exceed that of a human.

These ideas are being researched and showcased 60 miles north of Manhattan, at a project called Bluespace, which has been developed by IBM and furniture company Steelcase and launched in 2001.

Research staff member Jennifer Lai told CNN that designing workspaces for the future is an enormous area of research.

She said offices of the future would look and feel similar to how they looked now, but would behave very differently.

Primarily, she said, the office would be better equipped to handle the increasing number of interruptions workers are subjected to as a result of new technologies, including e-mail and instant messaging.

"We're being bombarded, so we have to find a way -- we, the creators of technology -- to make this technology more aware of what the knowledge worker is doing so that we're not interrupting him or her at inopportune moments," she said.

"Workers' productivity is the ultimate goal. We want to use technology in such a way to make workers as productive as possible."

A device called the "Everywhere Display Projector," a combination of a projector and computer vision technology, is used at Bluespace.

It projects information from a computer on to any surface, including, floors, desktops and chairs.

"The vision technology allows that surface to become interactive, so that while the computer is projecting the information on to, say, your table top, the worker can interact with that the thing which is basically just light by using light," Lai said.

Sensors, meanwhile, will detect when a worker is seated so colleagues and bosses can tell when they are in the office without having to walk past their desk to check they are there.

The two technologies combined can project your favorite image on to a wall when you walk into the office.

"Now that's not quite detecting your mood and changing the wallpaper based on your mood but it's certainly a step in that direction. Once we get this emotion detection correct we can very quickly translate that into what we're projecting for wallpaper," Lai said.

She said research showed that collaborative work suffered if colleagues were not working face to face and said technology was being developed to counter the effects of that, as companies became increasingly global.

"Once you lose that visual contact with your co-workers there's a whole set of effects that come into place and we are building technology to give you that awareness of your co-workers."

She said taking privacy of the individual into consideration was also a key area of research.

"We are very aware of people's gut reaction to these technologies, which is why we're making them sensitive and privacy-aware.

"We want to share information that's useful and valuable but also ensure that the user is in control of his or her information and who gets to know what, when. And that's a huge field of research right now," she said.

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