If Bill Gates gets his way, within 10 years speech technology will be ubiquitous and the unrelenting security headaches of today will be only a distant nightmare.

Interviewed by Gartner chief executive Michael Fleisher on stage at this week's Gartner Symposium ITxpo 2004 in San Diego, Gates also touched on the importance of security, Web services, and visual modelling technologies.

In response to the question of which IT innovations will gain prominence within 10 years, the chairman and chief software architect at Microsoft first pointed to speech technology. He predicted the resolution of technical problems such as background noise and recognition of context would lead to widespread adoption of speech recognition. "Within 10 years speech will be in every device," Gates said. "Things like speech and (electronic) ink are so natural, when they get the right quality level they will be in everything."

Soon, dictating to PCs and giving commands to mobile phones will be basic modes of interacting with technology, he said. "The keyboard won't go away. Your interaction will be multimodal; talking and typing and using (electronic) ink," Gates said.

He reiterated, as Microsoft has done at every opportunity, that security is also a primary area of investment within the company. Spam is increasingly dangerous, particularly social engineering attacks that spoof sender identities, Gates said. The key to solving the spam problem is to verify sender identities, a capability not built into the messaging protocol SMTP, Gates said.

"It turns out this verify-sender element - the caller ID in e-mail - is key to solving spam and making sure people don't do these social engineering spoofs. Every (message) coming in needs to be verified," he said.

Today, security is the top priority of development at Microsoft, according to Gates, but he sees the problem receding. "Within the next two years it will be off the top five list," Gates said. Isolating virus outbreaks and improving firewall administration are necessary steps toward that goal, he said.

The development of visual modelling tools across systems and code also is another strong focus, Gates said. Visual modelling for business processes will automatically show business information such as sales and forecast data in ways that are more accessible. The goal is to express without code exactly what steps are necessary in a workflow.

"It will be a will be visual model automatically, not writing code for each instance," Gates said. "The key breakthrough in coding is to write less code. There is nothing magical that will make a million lines of code a pretty thing. In a decade we should be able to reduce the code (developers) write by at least a factor of five."

Although its buzz factor has faded somewhat, Gates said Web services are still flourishing and will usher in radical improvements in software connectivity. "There has never before been a protocol that lets software connect to another piece of software and have really complete flows of information back and forth," Gates said. "Web services give the ability for any (piece of) software, in any language on any system, find and connect securely with another piece of software. (Web services) will be built into the server OS, client OS, and administration (tools)," Gates said.

Once Web services standards are pervasive, application and software connectivity will gain newfound depth and sophistication, Gates predicted.