The world is undergoing an “invisible revolution” in which apps and services are more important to people than their mobile phones, a senior figure at Microsoft UK has said.
Derrick McCourt, UK Public Sector General Manager at the company, told a digital careers event in London recently that devices are now being judged based on how they can connect to the internet and stream content from websites such as Netflix, rather than for their built-in features.
“Think about your favourite piece of technology, what you use every day for work and play, what you can’t live without. Chances are that many of your most beloved technologies are no longer made of plastic, metal and glass. Maybe it’s a streaming video service you use to binge-watch “Game of Thrones”, or an app that lets you connect with your friends or to shop,” McCourt said at the Techmix Digital Careers show in Westminster.
“Quietly, and without even realising it, your most beloved technologies have gone from being things you hold, to services you rely on; services that exist everywhere and nowhere. We are on the cusp of creating a world in which technology is increasingly pervasive but is also increasingly invisible – an invisible revolution.”
McCourt’s speech builds on the views of Harry Shum, Executive Vice-President in charge of Microsoft’s Technology and Research division, who believes that people increasingly want to access their favourite services wherever they are.
This shift in how people use technology has only been possible thanks to advances in cloud computing, artificial intelligence and machine learning. These should be embraced to help humans achieve more, McCourt added.
“The most powerful computer these days is in the cloud: you don’t even see it. A server at Microsoft’s Ignite conference earlier this year translated all 1,440 pages of War and Peace from Russian into English is just 2.6 seconds. At the same event, we took most of the capacity of Azure [Microsoft’s cloud service] and used it to translate everything on Wikipedia – three billion words across five million articles – in less than a tenth of a second.
“We now have new tools to solve problems that humans have previously struggled with. A few years ago, a person who spoke only Mandarin and a person who spoke only English would not have been able to have a real-time conversation without a human translator – something that is out of reach for most people. Now, there’s Skype Translator – you talk in real time to someone with whom you share no common language. Or how about harnessing computers to tackle cancer: pairing machine learning with computer vision to better analyse scans and give radiologists a better understanding of how their patients’ tumours are progressing.
“It’s not about computers replacing humans. Instead, it’s about using technology to allow people to do things better and more easily.”
McCourt’s speech came in the same week that Microsoft unveiled new features and services at its UK data centres. These include the ability to use private internet connections – Azure ExpressRoute and PSN/N3 Connectivity.
Microsoft launched its Azure and Office 365 cloud offering in this country three months ago. Since then, thousands of customers – including the Ministry of Defence, the Met Police and parts of the NHS – have signed up to take advantage of the sites, which offer UK data residency, security and reliability.
As companies, governments and people embrace cloud computing and its benefits, this digital transformation has caused a surge in demand in the jobs sector for people with the right skills.
“Specialist technology jobs are growing four times faster than any other profession in the UK,” McCourt told Techmix, the country’s largest careers show that specializes in digital, creative and media jobs.
“In the US, there are 1.4 million computing jobs but only 400,000 computer science students with the right skills. In addition, more than half of all technology specialists are currently employed in non-tech sectors.
“Every elite sports club now needs a data scientist, every fashion business needs software engineers, television companies are looking for Cyber Threat Specialists. For people with the right skills – digital skills – there’s a tremendous opportunity.”