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Microsoft executive is “Rethinking Computing”

11/10/2009 5:01:00 AM

“I think computing is going to be at the heart of solving many of society’s problems,” stated Craig Mundie, chief research and strategy officer at Microsoft. On November 4, Mundie shared some of his visions regarding the future of computing and technology with an interested audience of students and faculty at the University of Illinois.

Microsoft's Craig Mundie addresses students and faculty at the Alice Campbell Alumni Center.“Science-intelligence tools of the future will make it easier for scientists from different disciplines to work together on big, complex problems,” Mundie related. Using several prepared demonstrations and some working prototypes, he illustrated how “natural human interfaces” will soon link people to the software and large data sets that can help solve the most pressing global challenges we face today.

“I want people to think broadly about how engineers and scientists can use these advanced tools in the future,” Mundie remarked. “As we improve and integrate the interface, computers will take on more of the human sensory capabilities. Being able to couple very large data sets will allow anyone to take advantage of cloud computing capabilities.”

Like a skilled conductor, Mundie used a stylus pen and pad—and in some cases, simple hand gestures or voice commands—to conjure up thousands of websites and data sets from the clouds of available data, quickly narrowing his search to the most pertinent information.Connecting large data sets can to create complex models will not only allow scientists and engineers a nearly unlimited number of variables, but it also can help policymakers make decisions using science rather than intuition. Mundie demonstrated a global climate-modeling system developed by Microsoft researchers in England and at Princeton that shows how new methods of computational analysis can be combined into massive data collections such as forestry information. A second example utilized a range of data to maximize the design and efficiency of a hilltop array of wind turbines.

As one of two senior executives who took over from Bill Gates last year, Mundie is responsible for the company’s long-term technology strategy. In that role, he travels the globe, elucidating the computing concepts Microsoft is pursuing, and sharing his vision of technology’s possible futures. The visit to Illinois was one of four university visits he is making as a way to connect with university students and their institutions—the others being Cornell University, Harvard and the University of Washington.

Following his presentation and a Q&A session, Mundie took time for some one-on-one with students.In addition to reminding students that Microsoft works on more than PC software, Zunes, and Xboxes, Mundie uses these campus visits to find out what's on the minds of students and faculty. As the chief representative of a major recruiter of engineering and science talent, Mundie also called upon university faculty and students to prepare themselves for the future that is soon coming, where mastering the technology will likely be less important to understanding the nature of problem-solving in both the physical and social science arenas in order, “to make multidisciplinary activity easier to accomplish.”

Mundie was originally hired by Bill Gates 17 years ago to work on non-PC computing at Microsoft. He has spent much of his career building startups in various fields, including supercomputing, consumer electronics, healthcare, education and robotics, and remains active in incubating new businesses. For more than a decade he has also served as Microsoft’s principal technology-policy liaison to the U.S. and foreign governments, with an emphasis on China, India and Russia. He serves on the U.S. National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee and the Task Force on National Security in the Information Age, and in April 2009 was appointed by President Barack Obama to the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. He holds a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and a master’s degree in information theory and computer science from Georgia Tech.