Hit Refresh: 3 technology trends that are shaping the future

In his recently published book ‘Hit Refresh’, our CEO Satya Nadella points out that there are emerging trends in computing that will tie together in the near future. Technology companies that fail to notice these trends and participate in them, he says, risk being left in the dust.

Over the past three years, under Satya, Microsoft has focused its attention on these three core trends. We are now firmly entrenched in these trends that we believe will change the world and empower billions. Here’s a closer look at what technologies will shape our civilization in the near future as mentioned in his book ‘Hit Refresh’.

Mixed Reality, Artificial Intelligence and Quantum Computing seem like independent focus areas today. However, they will converge in the future to enable massive shifts in the world around us! Under Satya’s leadership, Microsoft has found a fine balance between success in current businesses and pursuing new opportunities. We have a fine investment strategy across three horizons:

  1. Grow today’s core business and technologies
  2. Incubate new ideas and products for the future and
  3. Invest in long-term breakthroughs

Mixed reality

Computing helps us transcend time and space. So why then are we still chained to keyboards and touchscreens? That’s the question Technical Fellow Alex Kipman asked himself not too long ago. Alex believed that software and networking have evolved tremendously over the years while the interface has been lagging behind. Even today, what most people experience as computing lies behind a solid LED screen which acts as a window into the digital dimension.

His subsequent work on Microsoft Kinect and Microsoft Hololens has helped us overlay the real world with a digital dimension. Mixed Reality, often called hybrid reality, is what we believe computing will evolve into in the next decade. Unlike Virtual Reality, Mixed Reality doesn’t block out the outside world. You can see objects and obstacles in the real world without the risk of collision while you seamlessly interact with the digital elements overlaying them.

The core technology that enables mixed reality is motion tracking. The development team has been careful in crafting a reference set for motion sensors and trackers embedded in the headset and controllers that enable the interface. With this technology, almost any surface can be augmented with digital elements. You can recreate your desk while on the move, explore the surface of mars while waiting for the bus, or take a virtual yoga class with students from across the world.

Although the most obvious use case for this technology at the moment is games, as the devices develop they could be used to help medical students, financial analysts, architects, designers, and even astronauts. In fact, NASA was one of the first companies to use the HoloLens prototype to allow trainees to work with astronauts in space. The possibilities are truly endless.

The beauty of Mixed Reality is in its immense possibility. The biggest use case is that it will enhance our ability to make emotional connections beyond barriers that currently divide us from one another. At Microsoft, we look forward to scenarios that will enhance the quality of care giving. For example, if you are a primary caregiver, it will enable you to perceive the world from the eyes of someone recovering from a stroke.

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

A combination of sophisticated algorithms, Big Data, and advanced computing is helping us make AI a reality.

We now have the computing resources and vast sets of data required to help machines learn and pick up new skills. Cortana embodies our vision for what AI can do. Essentially, it is the democratization of AI. Similarly, AI is built into many of our most prominent products such as Office 365 and Dynamics 365. Even our work on the world’s most powerful AI supercomputer is going to be available to everyone who wants to use its infrastructure when it is complete.

This democratization of innovation aligns with our mission to empower everyone, everywhere. Our technology has already helped McDonald’s deliver drive-through orders more efficiently, help make Uber rides safer, and prevent driver-error related accidents in Volvo’s vehicles. Systems that helped detect spam in Outlook inboxes is now being used to detect vulnerabilities in the HIV virus and cancer.

Although the capabilities of AI are astounding, we are still a long way from providing true Artificial General Intelligence (AGI). When AGI becomes possible, these bots will become our infinitely powerful personal agents, helping us enhance human capabilities like never before.

AI is perhaps the most evolved of all the trends. The society and the world of business is already benefiting from the power of AI. While we are far from making AI ubiquitous, we are on a mission to democratize it. There are zillions of scenarios that will be lighted by AI. The possibilities in the field of medicine and healthcare are perhaps the most impactful for the world.

If AGI is a fascinating goal, the potential to create a functional quantum computer is truly mind boggling.

Quantum computing

Station Q at the University of California is where our researchers are working on the next evolution of the computer. Instead of operating on a series of 1s and 0s, this computer will use the polarization of a photon to compute information. Quantum mechanics states that quantum bits or qubits can be in a superposition, which means they can be 1, 0 or both 1 and 0 at the same time.

This unlocks a degree of computational power currently impossible to tap. A functional quantum computer is expected to be multiple times better than a traditional computer.

A good example of how this technology could be applied is encryption. The highest level of encryption available today, RSA 2048, would take a traditional computer over 1 billion years to crack. A quantum computer could crack the same encrypted code in less than 2 minutes.

Computational power on this scale can unlock unbelievable opportunities. Scientists could use this power to uncover new discoveries in space, medical researchers could analyze data and uncover a new way to treat diseases, financial professionals could utilize market data to beat the index more efficiently or eradicate risk, and software developers could make their systems more secure.

Although quantum computing is still in its infancy, there are several ways it is already being used. The technology is making graphic processor unit farms (GPU farms), field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) and tensor-processing units (TPUs) possible.

Quantum computing will power the future of mixed reality and AI. The advancement of mixed reality and AI is already pushing the limits of classical computing. Quantum computing will enable the advancement of AI’s ability to truly comprehend human speech and accurately summarize it. Quantum computing will ultimately save lives through medical breakthroughs.  Once again, the possibilities are immense!

Our role in a changing world

We believe these three emerging trends of automation, quantum computing, and mixed reality are a tidal wave of change set to hit our lives in the near future. Microsoft is working tirelessly to bring these technologies to fruition.

Our role as a global technology leader is to tie these three threads together and create technology that empowers everyone. By combining and developing mixed reality, AI, and quantum computers, based on our principles of equitable growth we can ensure the framework for future technology is not just efficient but also equal.

Note: Contains excerpts from the book ‘Hit Refresh’ authored by Microsoft CEO - Satya Nadella


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