If we look back in time we can see that email software and browsers made the Internet popular. These technologies are now part of daily life. Since major innovation shifts happen every 10 to 15 years, the question is to predict the next "wave".
Craig Mundie, Microsoft's Chief Research Software Architect visited EIF on 2 April to talk about Microsoft's view on the next big developments in areas such as healthcare and education and about future prospects for the software industry.
Two major developments in the foreseeable future are the arrival of much faster microprocessors (100 times faster!) for the same price as today's with the same power consumption. The second major development is the large-scale use of distributed or cloud computing. All that new computing power will lead to an Internet that will morph from a publishing vehicle to a programmable environment. At the same time, the actual computing power of the pc (also called "client") will become much less important. What will emerge is a new composite computing environment, composite in the sense that there will be a union of the pc and the cloud in some new hybridized platform.
Irrespective of platform, Microsoft is focusing its energy on 2 specific areas of software development: healthcare and education. Large amounts of money in our societies are spent on healthcare and education but often with unsatisfactory results and calls for improvement of existing models. If we first look at education, we can conclude that in fact less than 25% of people on the planet are currently using all this computing power and more advanced information technology. The Internet of things however can change that if people in less advantaged areas of the world can receive the right education. Microsoft is trying to develop a (software) model in which the poorer areas of the planet will get the tools to improve their own productivity and capability to create sustainability.
What can software do to help improve education? Many studies show that lecturing to people is not an effective mechanism. Retention of information in a lecture only model is limited to roughly 35% of the material presented. However, if you add a level of interactivity between the student and the professor, the retention goes up to 65%. In the past, creating interactive software was too expensive but today it is within reach. Microsoft's team in India developed software that allows plugging up to 50 mice into one computer. In rural village schools they now buy one mouse per child for one dollar and put all children around the table with a projector at the end. Each child’s mouse has their own unique cursor that allows them to collaborate by moving their cursors. By building classroom training around that concept significant changes in the level of participation and learning are being made.
Similar new developments are happening in healthcare. We are at a transition point for medicine, perhaps the biggest in one hundred years. Medicine is about to go from analogue to digital just like so many other things. One big challenge in health care from a software point of view is to keep medical records. If you can combine records of individual medical history with actual intake of medicine you can achieve real benefits for the individual and for society. One of the applications that emerged from this is based on the needs of the medical community and called "hospital in a box", an a la carte menu of integrated software solutions. In the consumer space, Microsoft developed "HealthVault" which is an online secure private repository for personal clinical medical records controlled by the patient himself. An additional software toolkit for researchers allows utilizing medical data and more advanced methods of prediction to aid prevention. Such software will have the potential to dramatically reduce medical costs.