This week, I had the opportunity to speak at the annual Digital, Life, Design Conference in Munich.

DLD brings together opinion leaders, pioneers from media, business, government, technology and the arts at the forefront of enriching life’s experiences with technology.  

Attendees and speakers included Matthew Bishop (the Economist), Marissa Meyer (Google), Esther Dyson, Deepak Chopra and many others. In my particular track, which focused on cloud computing, I was joined by Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff and Cisco Systems CTO Padmasree Warrior

My role within Microsoft Research is to be a forward thinker and to build advanced prototypes of what the future could be, so we can “live” in that future and understand its societal implications. I appreciated the opportunity to not only discuss my views on the advent of the cloud, but also on how the rest of the “pieces”—smart devices, sensors, wireless communications, new natural user interfaces and so on—come together with the cloud to enable new kinds of rich experiences. 

The power of the cloud is not just about massive computing and storage capabilities in the sky, it's about the intersection and interaction of the cloud with increasingly powerful devices.

Beyond our laptops and smartphones, we are now surrounded by intelligent computers embedded in everyday objects—in our cars, offices and homes. These countless devices are becoming increasingly connected by an invisible Web, sometimes called the Internet of Things. 

Our interactions with these computing devices represent a huge backstop of information: Our devices increasingly have a new awareness of our potential intent, the activities in which we're engaged and the environment in which we work and live.  

Take your smart phone for example. Today, many of us use our phones primarily to text, update our social networks, read e-mail, surf the Web, and yes, even talk – all important functions. However, the real power of these phones is in the ever larger number of sensors—the power of things like accelerometers to detect motion or a GPS system to pinpoint location. Below is some video on the intersection of mobile devices and the cloud:

This data is incredibly valuable. When all of this computing power and data are combined with the power of the cloud, new kinds of experiences emerge. Computers can become intelligent assistants that anticipate the things we want to do, and begin doing them on our behalf.  

Let’s say traffic were heavier than expected one morning. Your car could notify your office computer of your anticipated delay and reschedule your meetings accordingly, sending out notices to meeting attendees on your behalf.

It's that combination of ubiquitous invisibility, the ability to use computing to anticipate real-life situations and the large-scale context we've never had before that will create the transformative effect. 

Here at Microsoft Research, we’ve worked on a project that illustrates this notion – the intelligent memory assistant. Think about all the times you’ve attended a conference and someone started a conversation with you, but you had no idea who he or she was. Imagine a world of inexpensive sensors that capture an image of that person and their voice, extract their features, query the cloud and then whisper in your ear, “This is Jane. You met her two years ago at the X meeting. Ask her about her son, John.” This is the kind of opportunity that a new world of interconnected devices and cloud services make possible. 

This is an incredible change! We’re “evolving” from a 40-year old model of computing interaction that came out of Xerox PARC. Despite all the elaborations and changes with touch screens and sophisticated user interfaces, the fundamental model of menus, interfaces on screens, of mice and pointers has remained true to how it began. 

That may seem superficially surprising given how much change there has been in computing technology. While Microsoft, Apple and other vendors have embellished and elaborated on it, our basic graphical user interface hasn't changed.

This is an exciting and unique time for technology. A new generation of experiences is emerging that will benefit society in ways we can’t even imagine.

Posted by Dan Reed
Corporate Vice President, Technology Strategy