As Nadella, a 24-year veteran of the company, would have known, the process of turning a Microsoft Research project into a product would often happen slowly, if at all. That's partly by design. The company's research group was set up in isolation from the product teams to allow researchers to envision the future without worrying about how their inventions will make money or fit into the company's mission. ... But Nadella's tight deadline left executives with no time to debate the separation of church and state. ... Microsoft is overhauling its research arm and the way it works with the rest of the company. The goal is to quickly identify technology with the most potential and get it into customers' hands before a competitor replicates it. ... To break down the walls between its research group and the rest of the company, Microsoft reassigned about half of its more than 1,000 research staff in September 2014 to a new group called MSR NExT. Its focus is on projects with greater impact to the company rather than pure research. Meanwhile, the other half of Microsoft Research is getting pushed to find more significant ways it can contribute to the company's products.
Since its release seven years ago, Minecraft has become a global sensation, captivating a generation of children. There are over 100 million registered players, and it’s now the third-best-selling video game in history, after Tetris and Wii Sports. In 2014, Microsoft bought Minecraft — and Mojang, the Swedish game studio behind it — for $2.5 billion. ... There have been blockbuster games before, of course. But as Jordan’s experience suggests — and as parents peering over their children’s shoulders sense — Minecraft is a different sort of phenomenon. ... For one thing, it doesn’t really feel like a game. It’s more like a destination, a technical tool, a cultural scene, or all three put together: a place where kids engineer complex machines, shoot videos of their escapades that they post on YouTube, make art and set up servers, online versions of the game where they can hang out with friends. It’s a world of trial and error and constant discovery, stuffed with byzantine secrets, obscure text commands and hidden recipes. And it runs completely counter to most modern computing trends. ... Minecraft culture is a throwback to the heady early days of the digital age. In the late ’70s and ’80s, the arrival of personal computers like the Commodore 64 gave rise to the first generation of kids fluent in computation. They learned to program in Basic, to write software that they swapped excitedly with their peers. It was a playful renaissance that eerily parallels the embrace of Minecraft by today’s youth. ... Today it costs $27 and sells 10,000 copies a day. (It’s still popular across all age groups; according to Microsoft, the average player is between 28 and 29, and women make up nearly 40 percent of all players.)
No matter where we work in the future, Nadella says, Microsoft will have a place in it. The company’s "conversation as a platform" offering, which it unveiled in March, represents a bet that chat-based interfaces will overtake apps as our primary way of using the internet: for finding information, for shopping, and for accessing a range of services. And apps will become smarter thanks to "cognitive APIs," made available by Microsoft, that let them understand faces, emotions, and other information contained in photos and videos. ... Microsoft argues that it has the best "brain," built on nearly two decades of advancements in machine learning and natural language processing, for delivering a future powered by artificial intelligence. It has a head start in building bots that resonate with users emotionally, thanks to an early experiment in China. And among the giants, Microsoft was first to release a true platform for text-based chat interfaces ... The company, as ever, talks a big game. Microsoft's historical instincts about where technology is going have been spot-on. But the company has a record of dropping the ball when it comes to acting on that instinct. It saw the promise in smartphones and tablets, for example, long before its peers. ... Xiaoice, which Microsoft introduced on the Chinese messaging app WeChat in 2014, can answer simple questions, just like Microsoft's virtual assistant Cortana. Where Xiaoice excels, though, is in conversation. The bot is programmed to be sensitive to emotions, and to remember your previous chats.
In a rare interview Abovitz says Magic Leap has spent a billion dollars perfecting a prototype and has begun constructing manufacturing lines in Florida, ahead of a release of a consumer version of its technology. When it arrives–best guess is within the next 18 months–it could usher in a new era of computing, a next-generation interface we’ll use for decades to come. ... Magic Leap’s innovation isn’t just a high-tech display–it’s a disruption machine. This technology could affect every business that uses screens or computers and many that don’t. It could kill the $120 billion market for flat-panel displays and shake the $1 trillion global consumer-electronics business to its core. ... The centerpiece of Magic Leap’s technology is a head-mounted display, but the final product should fit into a pair of spectacles. When you’re wearing the device, it doesn’t block your view of the world; the hardware projects an image directly onto your retina through an optics system built into a piece of semitransparent glass (the product won’t fry your eyeballs; it’s replicating the way we naturally observe the world instead of forcing you to stare at a screen). The hardware also constantly gathers information, scanning the room for obstacles, listening for voices, tracking eye movements and watching hands.
The difference between the 4004 and the Skylake is the difference between computer behemoths that occupy whole basements and stylish little slabs 100,000 times more powerful that slip into a pocket. It is the difference between telephone systems operated circuit by circuit with bulky electromechanical switches and an internet that ceaselessly shuttles data packets around the world in their countless trillions. It is a difference that has changed everything from metal-bashing to foreign policy, from the booking of holidays to the designing of H-bombs. ... Moore’s law is not a law in the sense of, say, Newton’s laws of motion. But Intel, which has for decades been the leading maker of microprocessors, and the rest of the industry turned it into a self-fulfilling prophecy. ... That fulfilment was made possible largely because transistors have the unusual quality of getting better as they get smaller; a small transistor can be turned on and off with less power and at greater speeds than a larger one. ... “There’s a law about Moore’s law,” jokes Peter Lee, a vice-president at Microsoft Research: “The number of people predicting the death of Moore’s law doubles every two years.” ... making transistors smaller has no longer been making them more energy-efficient; as a result, the operating speed of high-end chips has been on a plateau since the mid-2000s ... while the benefits of making things smaller have been decreasing, the costs have been rising. This is in large part because the components are approaching a fundamental limit of smallness: the atom. ... One idea is to harness quantum mechanics to perform certain calculations much faster than any classical computer could ever hope to do. Another is to emulate biological brains, which perform impressive feats using very little energy. Yet another is to diffuse computer power rather than concentrating it, spreading the ability to calculate and communicate across an ever greater range of everyday objects in the nascent internet of things. ... in 2012 the record for maintaining a quantum superposition without the use of silicon stood at two seconds; by last year it had risen to six hours. ... For a quantum algorithm to work, the machine must be manipulated in such a way that the probability of obtaining the right answer is continually reinforced while the chances of getting a wrong answer are suppressed.
16th Microsoft Office Specialist (MOS) World Championship, in which teens and young 20-somethings compete for the title of World Champion in their chosen professional application. It's an event put on annually by Certiport, a Utah-based subsidiary of standardized testing giant Pearson VUE. It's also a marketing stunt, pure and simple, devised to promote Certiport’s line of Microsoft Office certifications. This allows the certified to confirm the line on their resume that claims “proficiency in MS Office” is backed up by some solid knowledge of deep formatting and presentation design. ... Ayman Ben Souira (16, competing in Word), from a small town outside of Marrakech, Morocco, had never left his country before but spoke English and some anime Japanese ... The certifications only came into being at the turn of the century, a year before the MOS competition began. They have slowly grown in popularity as school districts across the US adopted more STEM-focused curricula, including practical courses in how to use the humdrum IT that undergirds our global economy.