Microsoft’s CTO lays out the two tech trends he believes will change the world: ‘People haven’t wrapped their heads around this yet’


Microsoft’s CTO lays out the two tech trends he believes will change the world: 

Microsoft’s CTO lays out the two tech trends he believes will change the world: ‘People haven’t wrapped their heads around this yet’

‘People haven’t wrapped their heads around this yet’

At most companies, the chief technology officer is tasked with overseeing the engineering teams and basically making sure that the company is staking its technological bets in an intelligent way.
At a company like Microsoft, where there are tens of thousands of engineers all over the world testing and building and prodding in an unknowable number of directions at any given time, the role of the CTO can be a little bit broader, says Kevin Scott, who’s held the role since he came over from LinkedIn — a Microsoft subsidiary — in 2018.
“I try to help [Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella] make sure we are doing what Satya calls the ‘left-to-right scan,'” Scott told Business Insider in an interview last week. In other words, it’s in Scott’s remit to make sure that Microsoft is “not failing to do things that we’re going to regret not doing 3 to 5 years down the line.”
At the same time, while he may not lead R&D, he is in charge of the company’s engineering culture: Not only does Scott help scout future engineering leadership from across the company; he holds regular events like AI 365, a forum where Microsofties — including Nadella — come together to talk about the latest developments in artificial intelligence and how they can refine their approach to it.
Indeed, those two aspects are closely linked, Scott says, as AI is “perhaps the second most important thing we’re doing at Microsoft right now” — behind only marquee businesses like Windows, Office, and the Azure cloud, but just as vital to the future of the company.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella
And in his capacity as a futurist, Scott says that he foresees two big trends, closely intertwined, that are less than a decade away from changing the world.
“I am fully expecting there to be an explosion of cheap compute silicon over the next 5 to 8 years,” says Scott. Furthermore, Scott expects that so-called reinforcement learning, a popular method of “teaching” machines how to do tasks, will be matched by equally powerful software. Joined together, they could do no less than change the world.
“People haven’t wrapped their heads around this, yet,” says Scott.
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An explosion of silicon

In Scott’s estimation, we’re right on the verge of a new era of small, cheap processors that are powerful enough to run advanced AI.
That change will be driven by simple need, says Scott. As self-driving cars, cashierless retail stores, and automated manufacturing all become more commonplace, current processor architectures are struggling to keep up with the raw amounts of data generated and analyzed by these types of systems.
Microsoft has made some strides in this area: Its own Project Brainwave, for example, is an AI-optimized system designed for the Microsoft Azure cloud using a novel architecture called FPGA, while its Azure Sphere initiative is a design for small, cheap, highly secure processors for internet-connected gadgets and toys.
However, Scott doesn’t expect that Microsoft will get into the processor business in a meaningful way — indeed, Azure Sphere is something that Microsoft has welcomed the rest of the industry to license for their own products and designs. That is to say, don’t expect Microsoft to go after the likes of Nvidia, Intel, or Qualcomm any time soon.
“I don’t think Microsoft has any inherent desire to be a microcontroller vendor,” says Scott.
Microsoft’s Project Brainwave is an initiative to build better systems for running complex AI algorithms.
Instead, Scott expects that it’ll be the current class of startups who will come up with the next big thing in processors. Scott didn’t name names, but at least five processor startups have raised over $100 million each to tackle the problem.
Once those cheap, powerful chips start hitting the market, Scott says, you can expect that everything will get a lot smarter, from cameras to appliances to industrial robots and children’s toys. When it’s affordable to put AI-powered software anywhere, it’ll start popping up everywhere, says Scott.
As for quantum computing, an extremely promising form of supercomputing relying on a kind of math that even Bill Gates doesn’t fully grasp, Scott says that he expects it’s coming — and notes that Microsoft is investing heavily to bring this quantum revolution about.
Still, he says, he’s less comfortable guaranteeing exactly when that revolution will begin, given that Microsoft, IBM, Google, and others are all searching for the kind of scientific breakthrough that would take quantum computing beyond the research lab and in to real-world usage. Still, the possibility is “exhilarating,” he says.

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