Microsoft Research TechFest 2010—through the lens of a clinician

image One of my favorite events of the year is Microsoft TechFest.  The two-day event hosted by my colleagues at Microsoft Research opened today.  As usual, I was blown away by what I saw.  I can’t go into great detail, or show you any pictures.  In fact, one of the exhibits (related to project Natal) was so under wraps I needed a second security check to see it.

imageWhat I can do is make some general observations about the   future of IT and computing.  I should also say that I tend to filter everything I see through the lens of how a particular technology might be applied to health and healthcare since that is the focus of my work at Microsoft.  So, here are my observations:

  • As I’ve discussed on HealthBlog and featured in some of my video programs, I believe that clinical computing will move toward larger displays with more natural user interfaces.  In fact, the multi-touch interface of Windows 7 and the “surface” properties of Microsoft Surface will gravitate to almost any surface; horizontal, vertical or anything in between.  And eventually, the “surface” takes on the three dimensions of our physical world, blurring the difference between what’s real and what’s virtual.  Microsoft researcher Andy Wilson is doing some terrific work in this area.
  • Touch isn’t the only way we’ll interact with the computer.  Increasingly we’ll be able to do things through sensors attached to our bodies that measure muscle activity or even taps on the surface of our skin.  One researcher, Desney Tan, is exploring how even our tongue might be used as an interface to our machines.
  • We will watch the computer and the computer will watch us.  This is already evident in some of the projects from Dr. Eric Horvitz and his group and featured in a video I produced not long ago. 
  • Health and medical records solutions will begin to merge physiological data captured by consumers in the home or elsewhere with data from hospitals and clinics.  This will provide a much more complete and comprehensive view of health status over time.  These systems will evolve to become much more graphically oriented and will include images, audio and video organized and accessible through 3D representations of the human body.image
  • The SmartPhone becomes much, much more than what it is today, and the NUI (natural user interface) will make today’s iPhone look like a relic from the past.
  • Computing power, connectivity and “intelligence” is built into many things all around us besides computers.  An example of this is the Littman Bluetooth stethoscope that I now have in my office.  It can collect and record vast amounts of data and transmit it wirelessly to my laptop or desktop.  Most of the medical devices we use in the office will harbor similar capabilities.

OK.  I know some of the above is a little vague, and purposefully so.  I could tell you more, but then I’d have to kill you (or find work at another company).  So let your imagination soar.  After spending time at TechFest 2010, mine certainly did.

Bill Crounse, MD     Senior Director, Worldwide Health     Microsoft

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