The world is undergoing an “invisible revolution” in which apps and services are more important to people than their mobile phones, a senior figure at Microsoft UK has said.
Derrick McCourt, Microsoft’s UK public sector general manager, told an audience at the Techmix Digital Careers show in London that devices are now being judged based on how they can connect to the internet and stream content from websites such as Netflix, rather than for their built-in features.
“Think about your favourite piece of technology, what you use every day for work and play, what you can’t live without. Chances are that many of your most beloved technologies are no longer made of plastic, metal and glass. Maybe it’s a streaming video service you use to binge-watch Game of Thrones, or an app that lets you connect with your friends or to shop,” McCourt said.
“Quietly, and without even realising it, your most beloved technologies have gone from being things you hold, to services you rely on; services that exist everywhere and nowhere. We are on the cusp of creating a world in which technology is increasingly pervasive but is also increasingly invisible – an invisible revolution.”
This shift in how people use technology has only been possible thanks to advances in cloud computing, artificial intelligence and machine learning. These should be embraced to help humans achieve more, McCourt added.
“The most powerful computer these days is in the cloud: you don’t even see it. A server at Microsoft’s Ignite conference earlier this year translated all 1,440 pages of War and Peace from Russian into English is just 2.6 seconds. At the same event, we took most of the capacity of Azure [Microsoft’s cloud service] and used it to translate everything on Wikipedia – three billion words across five million articles – in less than a tenth of a second.
“We now have new tools to solve problems that humans have previously struggled with. A few years ago, a person who spoke only Mandarin and a person who spoke only English would not have been able to have a real-time conversation without a human translator – something that is out of reach for most people. Now, there’s Skype Translator – you talk in real time to someone with whom you share no common language. Or how about harnessing computers to tackle cancer: pairing machine learning with computer vision to better analyse scans and give radiologists a better understanding of how their patients’ tumours are progressing.
“It’s not about computers replacing humans. Instead, it’s about using technology to allow people to do things better and more easily.”