As a long time geek, Steve Clayton has his dream job.
"I get to run around the Microsoft campus in Redmond. I get to knock on doors and open lab doors and say 'What's going on in here?' And find out the coolest new technology that's going on at Microsoft," the author of the Next at Microsoft Blog told Geekwire's Todd Bishop and John Cook in a special year-end edition of the show.
The tech evangelist says he's seen a number of emerging trends that should dramatically change the way we use and interact with technology in 2013 and beyond. Among them, the growth of natural user interfaces like touch, speech and gesturing.
"We've seen some great progress in it but over the next few years I just think we're going to see more and more, and it's going to go beyond touch and gesture," he says. He says that doesn't mean the ultimate demise of the keyboard and mouse, just as technology has yet to completely eliminate our use of pen and paper.
"If you want to write a long letter, the keyboard is probably still the best way to do it," he points out, and tasks like editing a diagram or a photo still work far better with a mouse than a finger on the screen.
Still, the way we interact with our devices continues to evolve. Clayton says he's been blown away by a number of developments, including translation technology he saw a top Microsoft executive demonstrate recently to a rapt audience in China.
"It not only translated what he was saying into Mandarin but translated it into his voice. The reaction from the crowd was phenomenal," he says.
Also on his radar is the continued development and intersection of big data, machine learning, and what he calls the internet of things.
"That's this notion that we are going to have more and more devices, object things, connected to the internet. That's going to be cars, streets, cities, lampposts."
It can be something as simple as your Windows phone doing a much better job of predicting what you're typing on the keyboard and correcting it by accessing an ever growing trove of data, or something as massive as keeping track of millions of cars and helping ease traffic in real-time.
With the future comes ever increasing privacy concerns, and Clayton admits there will always be tradeoffs. But at the end of the day, users will always have the option of turning off the tracking and not sharing their location or other data.
Clayton tells Todd and John he's also excited about the growing potential for 3D printing. He says one of the coolest things he saw all year was new technology that turns a Kinect sensor for the Xbox into a 3D scanner. Imagine you're remodeling your home. You could, for example, scan your living room and create a 3D model, then place all sorts of furniture or other designs into the model to get a more realistic sense of what it would all look like.
It's all the stuff of geek dreams. But for guys like Clayton, dreams really do come true.