Today, Craig Mundie, senior advisor to CEO Steve Ballmer, and Eric Rudder, chief technical strategy officer, hosted the sixth annual TechForum gathering here at Microsoft’s brand-new Envisioning Center. TechForum is a yearly event that offers a small group of technology writers and thinkers the chance to participate in a discussion about Microsoft’s strategic and technical vision for the future—and also experience some of our latest technology demos and prototypes.
It was a packed day of conversation, with Craig and Eric joined by colleagues Tony Bates, Kurt DelBene, Qi Lu, Don Mattrick, and Rick Rashid to discuss how they see technology evolving and how the company is approaching and influencing this evolution. The event offered a great opportunity to step out of the “day-to-day” of the technology business and think about where the world is headed years down the line.
(For a sense of how it feels to be in the room at TechForum, you can check out a photo gallery of shots from the day.)
A World of “Intelligent Technology”
This year, Craig, Eric and our guests discussed a transformative shift in our relationship with computers. Today’s technology environment has been defined by the proliferation of devices and services, social media, and mobile communications. As we look towards the future to anticipate what’s next, we believe that all of these will evolve to become more intelligent, and therefore able to work on our behalf. In short, our world of “information technology” will be transformed into a world of “intelligent technology.”
Three major themes tied the day together, and explained how we’ll get from here to there:
- The Arrival of Big Data: The massive explosion of data from machines, sensors and people—along with the broad availability of affordable cloud services at scale—are bringing us powerful new tools that turn data into insight.
- Systems That Learn: 21st-century computers aren’t just told what to do—they learn. Dramatic improvements in machine learning are leading to systems that can absorb the vast amounts of data we are collecting, discern knowledge, and project futures.
- More “Human” Natural User Interfaces (or NUI): This is a topic we’ve covered a great deal here on NEXT—and a trend that includes speech, gesture, and touch to interact with computing systems. Yet NUI is much more than simply those input modalities. It enables a world where technology understands what we are doing and what we need or want. As a result, our interactions with computing systems will be more like working with an expert helper with human-like senses.
These trends are influencing Microsoft’s product thinking and connecting our products. When you consider the potential impact of all of these trends combined, the possibility for computing to create significant new benefits for both consumers and businesses is immense. Demonstrations over the course of the day (including those from our new Envisioning Center) illustrated how this could happen in the home, office, and on the go.
At Microsoft, we’re investing in all these areas, collaborating across our business units to create solutions that can help solve real problems. While information technology afforded us great benefits in the final decades of the 20th century, the 21st century will be powered by intelligent technology that learns, delivers new insights, and works on our behalf. And, once more, it will revolutionize how we live.