Craig Mundie Discusses the Future of Technology with Interns at Microsoft Research Asia

The creation of huge global databases and the invention of more natural computer interfaces are some of the coming revolutions in the technology world, according to Craig Mundie, Microsoft’s chief research and strategy officer, who visited with 15 interns from Microsoft Research Asia in Beijing on March 16, 2010.

Craig Mundie, Microsoft’s chief research and strategy officer, greeted intern students from Microsoft Research AsiaCraig Mundie, Microsoft’s chief research and strategy officer, greeted intern students from Microsoft Research AsiaMundie encouraged the interns to accept the challenges of the coming transformations that will spring from research centers such as Microsoft Research Asia. “You always have to keep your mind open. This field will continue to evolve at a very high speed and you must prepare to evolve with it,” he said.

Mundie said he particularly enjoys talking to students wherever he travels in the world. “I always learn things from talking to the young people who are active in the university environment,” Mundie remarked during his visit.

The interns come from many countries, including China, the United States, Japan, Korea, and Australia, and specialize in various research areas.

“I felt fortunate to have the opportunity to talk with the one of world’s most influential people in the technology field,” said Quan Wang from Peking University, an intern at the information retrieval and mining group at Microsoft Research Asia.

Mundie started the roundtable discussion by briefly presenting some of the latest technological revolutions, led by advancements toward a more natural user interface, a shift toward the client-plus-cloud platform, and more powerful quantum computation capability that will dramatically increase the potential of computers.

One student asked Mundie how Microsoft will continue its research on natural user interfaces in areas other than entertainment. “When I picture the new world of this technology,” Mundie said, “I think very broadly, and most of the applications will not be in entertainment.”

The transformation from graphic-user interaction to natural-user interaction is one of the biggest developments that will change the way people think about computing. “The computer will interact with people who are not experts in computing,” Mundie said. “I think this is tremendously exciting and powerful.” In particular, he noted, the natural-user interface will be used to provide medical care and educational tutoring for people in rural villages of China, India, Indonesia, and Africa.

Intern Futao ZhangIntern Futao Zhang asked Mundie about Microsoft's work in the field of healthcareIntern Futao Zhang, who majors in bioinformatics at Zhejiang University in China, asked Mundie what Microsoft will do in the field of healthcare as ecological problems, such as global warming, affect our gene makeup. Mundie replied that to move into the era of digital medicine, we need to create huge genome records of large percentages of the world’s population. Thus, researchers need to create a very high scale of data, while taking into account that people are increasingly concerned about personal privacy.

“So we need to create new technologies that allow us to have this huge dataset and yet computationally make guarantees about individual privacy and elimination of misuse either from security problems or data mining activities,” he continued.

Powerful tools will intersect with this super-scale dataset to create semantic networks that will allow us to ask logical questions that can be answered by reasoning across the semantic network, Mundie explained. Microsoft’s research on creating huge databases, as well as developing tools to increase their functionality, will help enable the medical community to conduct and accelerate research in this significant area.

Intern Xiaochen LianIntern Xiaochen Lian asked Mundie about the future At the end of the conversation, Xiaochen Lian from Shanghai Jiao Tong University asked Mundie about the future of the world and whether he had a clear goal for his life when he was young.

“When I was in my 20s,” Mundie remembered, “I didn’t have a world view, because the world wasn’t as connected as it is today.” But Mundie said he was fascinated by computing even at a young age, and he started building computers when he was 12.

“I always worked hard. During my third year in college, I joined a start-up company, and 11 years later, I started my own super-computer company,” he said.

Mundie also shared his perspective about starting companies. “Today, so many young people have access to so much information through the Internet and study,” he said. “There’s a rush of young people to start their own companies before they have the benefit of learning from other great people, which actually reduces the likelihood that they will produce one of the world’s great companies.”

The dialogue was part of the ongoing talent development efforts of the Microsoft Research Asia “Stars of Tomorrow” internship program, which has welcomed more than 3,500 undergraduate and graduate students from all over the world since its creation in 1998.

“The internship program not only benefits me with one-on-one mentoring from experienced researchers, but also provides me with access to lectures and discussions delivered by renowned scientists and leaders on a wide variety of topics, offering fuel for creativity in my own research,” said Yue Dong from Tsinghua University, after Mundie’s talk.

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