Imagining the future from an alternative perspective

Lucas Joppa, Microsoft Chief Environmental Officer

What do you believe creates our future? We believe it’s imagination. Take a moment to imagine with us. What if the clothes you wear could be both beautiful and alert you to increases in harmful pollution? What if cloud technologies based on optics could make datacenters more affordable and more sustainable? What if we could use every bit of data on every species that ever existed, to help tackle our toughest conservation challenges?

Innovation and imagination rely on our ability to see things differently. Microsoft is full of people who do just that, and the result of their alternative perspectives are groundbreaking ideas that will help shape the future. We are proud to share some of their most exciting projects and visions to inspire you to imagine along with us – stimulating your own ideas to spark even more breakthroughs. This is the idea behind ALT: The future from an alternative perspective, an initiative designed to open a window to some of our projects through video stories, labs and online experiences and at events.

We want more people to experience our biggest, boldest bets and dive even deeper into how we are looking at the world’s greatest challenges from a different perspective.

Think about computing, for example. By 2025, a fifth of the world’s total power is expected to be consumed by datacenters. We need to rethink compute, storage and networking to fulfill the future needs and do it in a sustainable way. In one of the projects highlighted, the future of the datacenter, we explore how optics can address this challenge. An example of this larger effort is Project Silica, which provides the ability to store terabytes of data on a virtually indestructible, thin platter of glass.

But beyond ones and zeros, we’re also thinking about Gs, Cs, As, and Ts – the building blocks of DNA. Applying programming principles to biology has the potential to transform medicine, agriculture and energy at global scale. Within Microsoft Research, a team known as Station B has been working with partners to leverage our expertise in languages, compilers, machine learning and cloud to develop the tools that will allow scientists to uncover computation in living systems.

We will continue to share these and many more ideas to spark your imagination. Just today we are releasing a new story that I hope you find as inspiring as we do – “A planetary computer of Earth.” This story shares how through artificial intelligence (AI) the power of cloud computing we can convert massive amounts of data into the insights and information needed by researchers, academics and environmental experts to create a more sustainable planet, redefining areas such as agriculture, biodiversity, climate change and water.

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All these stories share our principled approach to innovation. We believe innovation should be meaningful – developed for lasting impact. We believe technology should be created to make our lives better, but also that can be trusted. And lastly, we believe innovation should be applied, turning incubations into mainstream products and platforms that help you to do the same.

The magic that comes when imagination becomes reality – when breakthroughs become disruptive technologies – is incredible! Think about the many technologies that started with these principles in mind and are now available for you to use and build on top of. Azure Cognitive Services which is now used by more than 1.3 million developers, started as an incubation project called “Project Oxford” and now puts our AI innovations in the hands of every developer. Automated Machine Learning began as a research paper on how to use machine learning to create machine learning and is now included in PowerBI, enabling hundreds of thousands of business users to create their own AI models. Just last week we released our annual holiday ad which showcases Microsoft Translator – which doesn’t really translate reindeer but is used by millions of people through the power of Microsoft Office, Teams or Skype.

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Think about the ambitious ideas, once considered unattainable, that are now part of our lives. Far-off visions coming out of “science fiction,” that were once considered fantasy are now reality. As a long-time “Star Trek” fan, I’m amazed that the replicators I saw as a kid are now 3D printers, that “virtual display devices” are wearable technology and the concept of “warp speed” continues to be explored as a way to make interplanetary travel possible. Looking at things from an alternative perspective gives us all license to imagine, dream and create. We invite you to join us on this journey of imagination and possibility. Visit ALT: The future from an alternative perspective to experience the stories, consider what’s important to you and set off on your innovation journey today.


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