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'We're on a virtual walk out of Africa', futurologist tells Intel partners

And does upgrading to Windows hurt a PC's feelings?

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The human race is on the threshold of a virtual walk out of Africa, but we'll only be able to see where we're going as long as we're wearing those funny little glasses everyone wore to watch Avatar.

In the meantime, according to Intel, corporate neanderthals still struggling along with outdated processors can help the human race tear their eyes away from the shadows on the back wall of the cave and start watching HD video on Windows 7 client boxes.

The recasting of Intel's roadmap as some sort of quest for fire came at an Intel customer event in London late last week. The processor vendor told some of its best customers and a few journalists, that after a frankly horrible year or two for the economy, if not necessarily Intel, conditions were right for business to start renewing its PCs again, just in time to lap up systems based on the 32nm Nehalem technology the vendor unveiled at CES last month.

Intel's European product marketing director Richard Curran drove the business message home, saying that corporate customers upgrading their machines could hope to recapture their investment in 19 months. Upgrading to machines running vPro, the manageability technology Intel is wrapping around its Core vPros, would shrink that time to nine months, he claimed. Ingredients in the vPro sauce include remote manageability and anti-theft technology.

One crucial addition is a smoothing out of upgrades, using Active Management Technology. This would be essential for corporations looking to upgrade their OS for example - and just the sort of thing Intel's old pal Microsoft would like to ease customers into Windows 7. Presumably from XP.

And Nina Sundberg, Microsoft's UK director of Windows clients, said the firm had seen phenomenal interest in upgrading, indeed more than the company could've hoped for. Which is all very well, but we suspect Intel would be even more pleased to see corporates buy whole new machines, rather than just upgrade the OS on existing machines.

The vendor then shifted gear, wheeling out a prepacked panel, moderated by Robert Llewellyn, the actor best known for playing a machine on Red Dwarf, to ponder where computing, particularly consumer computing, is heading.

He told the audience that he loved computers, and proved this by waxing lyrical about his first Amstrad and the way the green screen used to burn his eyes off.

The panel then decided that 3D was now the hottest thing in computing since at least some of Intel's earlier processor designs. It was clear they'd all been to see Avatar.

Intel director of brand strategy director Brian Fravel declared that Moore's law was good for for the foreseeable future, or at least time being, declaring that the takeup of HD and 3D were going to be demanding ever higher levels of performance, at least until users eyeballs are burned out of their heads.

Futurist Ray Hammond declared that computers were rapidly approaching human levels of intelligence, and predicted 3D in laptops in three or four years.

"It's almost a virtual walk out of Africa," he declared, summoning up a vision of wiry hunter gatherer types putting on their black rimmed polarised glasses, clutching their notebooks and striding out of the rift valley, only to stop after three or four hours to recharge their notebooks.

In the meantime, computers would become increasingly parallelised and start showing elements of consciousness, he predicted, while we humans would have to start addressing the issue of rights for machines. (If you thought that would have gotten the biggest laugh of the night you'd be wrong - that was reserved for Intel's assertion that its own massively parallel graphics platform Larrabee had simply been rescheduled.)

But Hammond's bold predictions bring us back to the beginning. It's all very well Intel declaring that now is a good time to upgrade your PC and switch the Vista. But has anyone asked their PC how it feels about it? ®

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