Tech Watch: The Minority Report Computer Is Real

Prepare to be amazed. A group of visionaries has created a real-world, working version of the big-screen gestural interface that nerds everywhere drooled over in the 2002 Tom Cruise film.

If you saw Minority Report, you probably saw the multi-screen, gesture-based interface that Tom Cruise uses to pull up police files and though, “That’s cool. But I’ll never live to see that thing invented.” Then you might have seen Microsoft demo its Surface operating system, and thought that’s as close as the world would ever get to intuitive, mouse-and-keyboard-free computing.


Well, you’d be wrong on both counts. Not only does the interface of the future exist, but after several years of development, it’s entering commercial form. Sure, you’ll probably never live to see it put to use in local law enforcement – even the FBI has famously outdated computers – but someday, the local fuzz might get their hands on G-speak: a “spatial operating environment.”

If there are similarities between G-speak and the Minority Report computer, it’s because one of the film’s science advisors, John Underkoffler, is the founder of Oblong Industries, the company that has developed it. Spatial operating environments, or SOEs, as Oblong calls them, are essentially a combination of gesture-based input, “recombinant” networking, and a litany of real-world heads-up displays. It’s not just a fancy skin, either, but an entire platform for application development and execution. Oblong has partners that develop apps for G-speak, but the company also does custom development in-house.

Oblong says that G-speak, which is an outgrowth of the founders’ work at MIT in the 1990s, is particularly well-suited for working with data-intensive applications and multimedia, two areas of computing that benefit greatly from 3-D manipulation. The platform also allows multiple displays and CPUs to be stitched together to create what it calls a “building-scale” computing environment – essentially entire rooms with 3-D interfaces that allow multiple users to collaborate on large data sets and bodies of media.

To operate it, you need a pair of Tom Cruise’s fancy computer gloves. Wearing them, as you’ll see if you check out the video, allows free-hand gestural input that can include pointing, grabbing, and several other hand poses from several pairs of hands simultaneously. As their website describes, “Every graphical and input object in a g-speak environment has real-world spatial identity and position. Anything on-screen can be manipulated directly. For a g-speak user, ‘pointing’ is literal.”

Eye-catching software platforms like G-speak might be a clue to what interfaces will look like in the next few decades, but what about the computing guts of the future? As of this week, two companies – IBM and Cray – are duking it out to claim the title of world’s fastest supercomputer.

Just days ago, Cray claimed its “Jaguar XT5” machine was world’s fastest, running at a mind-bending speed of 1.059 petaflops thanks to its 45,000 quad-core AMD Operton processors. But IBM’s contender, named Roadrunner, hits 1.105 petaflops, according to Top500, which released its rankings on Friday. Roadrunner lives in Los Alamos National Laboratory, and runs on a melange of 12,960 IBM PowerXCell 8i Cell Broadband Engine chips, as well as another 6,948 AMD Opteron Dual-Core processors for good measure. Jaguar is housed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.


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I've written about innovation, design, and technology for Fast Company since 2007. I was the co-founding editor of FastCoLabs.