Microsoft is holding its Build 2018 conference for developers this week. And the company’s CEO, Satya Nadella, used his opening remarks this morning to outline the company’s bold new strategy for an equally bold new scene for computing.
“The world is becoming a computer,” Nadella told the Build 2018 attendees. “Computing is being enabled in every person, place and thing.”
Nadella went on to assure the developers, gathered this week in Seattle from more than 70 countries, that Microsoft has every intention of being a key force in this change.
Even if you’re not a developer of Windows apps, you should find Microsoft’s strategy important for the future. Turns out the company has a vision for not only its own operations, but also the entire industry — even the entire world.
"The world is becoming a computer," Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella told Build 2018 attendees
Microsoft now says its mission is to empower every person and organization to accomplish more. And to fulfill this mission, Nadella told Build attendees, the company is relying on 3 foundational technologies:
> Ubiquitious computing: The world’s applications need a fabric from the cloud to the edge. In other words, Nadella said, they need Microsoft Azure. Azure increasingly works with the Internet of Things, drones, AI and more. And these futuristic applications are being used by customers that include energy supplier Chevron, professional-services firm KPMG, oilfield services company Schlumberger, and industrial-equipment maker Rockwell Automation.
> Artificial intelligence: Microsoft aims to commoditize AI, Nadella said, putting the technology in the hands of everyone, everywhere. The company is working on new commercial applications for AI, too. One example is an ambient-sound recognition system that can listen to the sounds of factory tools, such saw blades, to determine whether they need to be sharpened or replaced. And HoloLens, the company’s mixed-reality headset, is being combined with AI software for tasks that include space planning, remote support and technical training.
> Multi-sense, multi-device platform: Microsoft is combining the Windows and Office environments to put “people at the center, vs. devices,” Nadella said. What the company now calls Microsoft 365 reflects the new way that people use computer technology at work and through their day.
Under this new strategy, applications can be developed once, published just about everywhere. They can run in multiple environments (Windows, Mac, Android, etc.), and on multiple devices, treating a phone as the second screen of a PC in one moment, then treating the PC as the second screen of a phone in the next. Apps can also be “multisensory,” employing touch, speech, ink, mixed reality, even the human gaze.
Opportunity and responsibility
Nadella never mentioned Facebook during this morning’s opening remarks, but it seemed clear he had that company’s recent privacy problems very much in mind.
Microsoft, he said, is now operating along 3 “core pillars” — privacy, cybersecurity and “ethical AI.”
> Privacy: It’s a “human right,” Nadella said. The user must always be in control of their data, meaning developers can’t grab user data unless they have already obtained the user’s explicit consent. He even praised the EU's new GDPR privacy rules, which go into effect this month, and which other corporate leaders have criticized as an example of bureaucratic overreach. Not Nadella; he called GDPR "a sound, good regulation."
> Cybersec: “We have to keep the world safe,” Nadella told the Build attendees. He cited Microsoft’s participation in the 34-company Cybersecurity Tech Accord, a consortium aimed at protecting citizens worldwide from cyberattacks. Nadella even described the consortium as "the digital Geneva Convention of our time.”
> Ethical AI: Microsoft will focus “not only on what computers can do, but also what computers should do,” Nadella said, adding, “That time has come.”
Microsoft has created an internal ethics board that reviews all products and projects. It is also investing in tools, such as one designed to “de-bias word embeddings,” Nadella said.
During his opening remarks, Microsoft’s CEO also mentioned that today's sheer computing power is "pretty stunning.” Stunning, too, are the latest changes at Microsoft.