On Oct. 7, the Office of the VP (Research and International Relations) will host Craig Mundie, chief research and strategy officer of Microsoft Corp., as he delivers a public lecture titled “Converging Worlds: A New Era in Computing.” Mundie will discuss what he calls a “fundamental transformation” in how we interact with computers and what we can expect from them.
Q: What changes do you see happening in the way we interact with computers?
Computers have become a lot more powerful and a fundamental driver of this transformation is data. Data plays an increasingly important and pervasive role in our lives. We’re surrounded by photos, videos, newsfeeds, status updates, texts and tweets. Similarly, businesses, researchers and governments gather, store and utilize data from many sources in new ways. Very soon, our ability to use what we call “big data” will change what we can expect from computers and how we think about science.
I think two things will happen: first, technology will increasingly manifest as one integrated system, not a collection of smaller, disjointed computers; and secondly, because you will be able to deal with the computer more like another person, you’ll increasingly come to think of it as a helper or an assistant, and less like a tool.
Why is it important to visit universities and talk to students, professors and researchers?
My travels have allowed me to build strong relationships and ties with universities, and often seed opportunities for additional research collaboration. Microsoft has one of the world’s largest global computer science research organizations focused on basic research – in fact, we just celebrated 20 years. Our researchers actively collaborate with their university counterparts, and vice versa. Here at McGill, we’ve funded projects that explore how to program a robot for autonomous driving over challenging terrain.
You are an engineer by training, but obviously you also know your way around a boardroom. What are some of the skills that serve you well in both settings?
I guess I have the startup gene – identifying a good idea and getting the right people behind it to help me move it forward.
Part of my role is to serve as Microsoft’s emissary to foreign governments. I spend time each year in China, India, Brussels, Korea, and many other countries, meeting with heads of state and ministers of IT, healthcare and other areas to help understand their economic goals and discuss how advanced technologies can help achieve them.
Do you ever feel like you are experiencing something out of science fiction?
My job in a lot of ways is to bring science fiction ideas to life and share them with others.
Back in 2006, I gave a presentation in which I had two prototype robots running around the stage; today there are 400 of that particular robot in hospitals around the world. Doctors control them and are able to be telepresent with patients from remote locations.
In 2007, I showed a conceptual inkjet printer that replaced the ink with chemicals for prescription drug making, enabling people to “print” strips of medication. This year, GlaxoSmithKline is completing a two-year trial, printing medicines on pills.
One of the best examples of science fiction brought to life is the Kinect for Xbox – a special camera and sensor technology that enables completely controller-free gaming. Just three years ago it was thought impossible to build, and now it’s the fastest selling consumer technology of all time.
Converging Worlds: A New Era in Computing: Oct. 7, 3 – 4 p.m.; Redpath Hall, 3461 McTavish (Entrance via McTavish Gates)