Remarks by Rick Rashid, Senior Vice President, Microsoft Research
Microsoft European Research and Innovation Day
December 6, 2005
ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen please welcome Rick Rashid, senior vice president and head of Microsoft’s global research.
RICK RASHID: Well it’s great to be here today and to be able to talk about innovation and growth. For me this is really one of the most exciting times that I’ve ever seen in the field of computer science, the field of technology. The changes that are going on, the progress that’s being made, it’s really opening up entirely new areas or new vistas, new things that we can do. If you look at the trends that are out there today for example, information access is becoming something that’s available to almost everyone through broadband or wireless connections. And what that’s doing is it’s allowing us to think about how digital technology can change the way that we live. It can change the lifestyles that we have; it can add to the things that we’re doing in our homes, in our cars, in our businesses. There are new kinds of devices and the devices are becoming tremendously varied. They allow us to get access to computing. For example, today I’m wearing the Tissot Smart Watch that has Microsoft software on it, and in the United States through this watch I have access to my calendar, my sports information, my weather information, the traffic information, my stock information, my news information.
Today technology can go from the smallest devices to devices like a phone and other hand-held, to the largest data centers and computing systems, and it’s changing the way we think about running our businesses, it’s taking our economy more and more digital as time goes on. There are fundamental breakthroughs happening in the field of computer science really changing our understanding of what we can do in the field. For example, in the last few years in our Microsoft Research labs in the U.K. and in the United States, we’ve developed technology that lets us, for the first time, prove mathematical properties, they’re programs of hundreds of thousands or millions of lines. This is something we could never do before. It’s one of the dreams in the field of computer science. And so it’s these kinds of breakthroughs that are getting me really excited about what we’re doing.
Now I came to Microsoft 14 years ago to create Microsoft Research, our basic research organization. And for those 14 years, our No. 1 mission has always been to move forward the state of the art in the field of computer science in which we work. And a lot of people always ask me well, why is it that Microsoft invests in basic research and why is it that your mission statement doesn’t say Microsoft in it? It’s about moving forward computer science, not just Microsoft’s interests. And the reason is because we look at the value that basic research brings either to a company like Microsoft or to a society in the case of investments made in universities. It’s really about giving back to the system. It’s about allowing Microsoft, or allowing our societies and our countries, to be able to respond rapidly to change. One of the things that basic research can do is to make sure that you’re ready if you have new competitors, if you have new technology to change the way your business has to operate, if you have new opportunities that you need to be able to take advantage of, it gives you the people that you need, it gives you the technology you need, it gives you the ability to respond rapidly. And so it’s that kind agility that makes a difference.
A lot of people ask me well, what are the things that Microsoft is asking your research group to do? And the answer is many of the things our research group does are things that are not Microsoft focused, but are things that Microsoft may do in the future. I mean if you look back historically, a lot of what became Microsoft today was work that we did in the early days in our research group. So for example I started back in 1993, the group that became what is today our Digital Media Division. We built that research group up, we built the product team around it, we spun that technology out into a proper organization. When you look at the X-Box or the X-Box 360 or the work that Microsoft does in graphics in Windows, that work all came from work that was done in the early days of Microsoft Research, long before any part of Microsoft’s product organization was focused on 3D. And in fact one of my jokes has always been that we were working on 3D in Microsoft Research before anyone else in the company could spell it. But it’s just a sense of what a research organization brings.
Now you have to think of technology as a pipeline. I mean we’re creating things today that are going to be in Microsoft’s products in the future. I’m going to talk about a few things right now. You’ll be able to see some of the technologies that we’re creating in the demo room next-door, but you should go out to our website and you’ll find that Microsoft Research is working in more then 55 different areas of computer science, and we’re really starting to stretch our research into areas that fit the gap between computer science and other fields. So I’m only going to talk about a few things today.
One of the areas that we’ve been doing research in is using new kinds of displays and new kind of display devices. One of the things that we’ve been doing is in working on what we call surface computing, the idea that almost any surface in the future will be a surface that you can use for input and output. In just a few years it’ll be cheaper to manufacture LCD displays on a square-inch basis then it is to today manufacture whiteboards. It means that in the future there’ll be no reason why anything won’t be interactive. I want to show you a quick video here of some work that’s been done by one of our researchers, Andy Wilson, and what he’s done is he’s developed a technology which he calls surface computing, which takes advantage of short-throw projector technology and modern, real time computer vision techniques, to be able to take an ordinary surface, in this case a table, and turn it into an interactive device, an interactive surface, so you can play some simple games with it. You can make the table itself be a tablet PC if you want, and interactive with your fingers. But you can also take physical things that you put down on the table and they can suddenly take on virtual appearances. So he’s putting down some physical, some little pucks, and they’re suddenly becoming spaceships or airplanes, or things that he can interact with. You can take a piece of paper, you can put it down on the display and it suddenly becomes a video. And you can move it around. It could be a map; it could be almost anything you can imagine. And I think this notion that suddenly any kind of surface can become a surface where you interact with, really extends the notion of what we think computers can be in the future, and what we think computer devices can do.
When we think about the future we’re also looking at the amount of data that we’re creating. I mean one of the things that’s exciting about the field of computer science right now is we suddenly have the ability to store and manage as much information as you can imagine a human-being creating in their lifetime. I mean I usually call this human-scale storage, human-scale computing. With a terabyte of disc-storage, for example, which today in the United States costs about $500, it’s now possible for me to store every conversation I could ever have from the time I’m born to the time I die. I could take a picture every minute of my life, whether I’m awake or asleep, and store them on a terabyte of disk. That’s a tremendous amount of storage that’s available to us, and it creates a need to be able to search and access and mine that storage in exciting ways. We’ve been investing in ways of allowing people to get at their information in new and innovative ways, to be able to do search, whether it’s of their personal information or the information that’s out on the Internet, that is personalized to them. When I go out in a search engine and I want to find all the information about Gates, I probably don’t mean the kinds of gates you use on a farm, I probably don’t mean the kind of gates that use in a computer chip (although I might), I’m probably interested in something related to Bill Gates. Well that’s something about me that the computer can know and that we can take advantage of, and we’ve been developing technologies that do that.
We’ve also been looking at what this sort of digital archiving and data driven architecture can mean in many different areas of people’s lives. We’re working with many organizations to digitize their information. We’re working, for example, with astronomers, to be able to bring online all the data from the world’s great telescopes; we’re working with the medical community, the Center for Bioinformatics, the National Library of Medicine in the United States, in libraries of medicine around the world, to bring all the world’s medical articles and abstracts online and make them available 24 hours a day.
We’re coming up with new techniques to access and retrieve that information, and this sort of digitization of all the world’s knowledge is something that is going to drive new innovation and it’s going to make the field move faster, not just computer science but every field of science, faster. We’re also looking at how technology can change our learning. We’ve made huge investments around the world. In the United States we have a project with MIT called I-Campus, we have projects going in Europe, we have projects going on in Asia. In India we’re working with world communities to say, how can we improve education, how can we make it more efficient, how can we bring it to children that have never had access to it before? We’re working with the government of Australia, for example, to bring education to some of the most remote areas of the Outback; we’re working in India to bring education to Indian communities where you may not be able to bring computers in, except to just a few children. So we’re looking at innovative ways of saying, how can we let many children simultaneously interact with a single computer display? You’ll see some of this technology in the demo rooms next-door.
We’re also, as I mentioned, working with the other sciences, to say how can fundamental advances in computing technology accelerate what’s happening in other sciences? That may be in areas like astronomy that I already mentioned, but we’re also looking at how computing technology can move medicine faster, can move biology faster, as Jean-Philippe mentioned by tomorrow I’ll be in Trento, Italy, announcing the opening of our new computational biology institute, that’s a joint project with the University of Trento, the local and national Italian government and the EU. And for me, that’s exciting. It’s saying how can fundamental advances in computing languages, in the theoretical underpinnings of computer science, be applied to our understanding of biological processes; and vice versa, how can our understanding of biological processes move the field of computer science and technology forward even faster?
In our research lab in Redmond we’re working on technologies that will help identify and create better Aids vaccines, by recognizing that fundamentally the way scientists now represent DNA, the way they represent protein, is using the same kinds of strings that we traditionally used to represent digital data in computer science. And we can then use machine-learning techniques and computer vision techniques and techniques we’ve used in other parts of computer science to now address those fundamental issues of medicine.
Now when I look at what Microsoft is doing broadly, what my organization’s doing, we have been steadily expanding our investments in basic research. As I said, we started investing in basic research at Microsoft 14 years ago when I came to Microsoft to start Microsoft Research. Today, we’ve grown to over 700 researchers worldwide. And to put that in perspective, that’s the equivalent of growing a major computer science department, like a Berkeley computer science faculty, a year every year for 14 years. And we’re expecting to double that rate of growth over the next two years. We believe that investing in basic research in Computer Science is critically important at this juncture. The opportunities are tremendous; the reasons to invest are tremendous. And we’re not just investing in our own basic research, but we’ve stepped up our investments world wide, working with universities. Our European science initiative is an example of that investment, but we’re reaching out to the top European research institutions and saying how can we work with you, how can we be a catalyst to help move forward fundamental issues of computer science and other fields that computer science touches? We’re working with over 200 different research groups in Europe to advance computer science research. We’re investing in students, we’re investing in faculty, and again for us that’s a critical part of what we see our mission as being.
So I just want to thank you for being here today, invite you, as Jean-Philippe did, to get a chance to see some of the technologies that we have on display today, but also to have you think about how innovation is really going to change the future, and the opportunity that investments and innovation can bring to them.