Yesterday, at an event celebrating the first 10 years of Microsoft Research, Bill Gates showcased the technologies that have come out of the company's research arm and previewed technology it will reap in the future. The event was as much a celebration as it was a promise to continue funding the operation, which has given Microsoft many instantly recognizable benefits, including ClearType display technology, grammar checking, SQL Server data-mining capabilities, speech processing, antipiracy technologies, and more. Microsoft established the group about a year after former Microsoft executive Nathan Myhrvold sent a memo to Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer in which he argued that Microsoft should begin a fundamental computer-science research program to take a leadership role in making computers easier to use.
"Ten years ago, we established Microsoft Research to focus on finding the answers to some of computing's greatest challenges--developing technologies that will enable computers to see, listen, and learn, so that interacting with them is as natural as talking with a friend," Gates said at the celebration. "We've made incredible progress, but there's still a lot of work to be done. Regardless of the current economic climate, we remain convinced that computer industry and government research organizations must continue to invest for the long term. Without basic research, we cannot create the technology foundations for future generations to build on."
On tap are a slew of interesting new technologies that will begin rolling out in the coming months and years. The company presented a Sensing Pocket PC device that can respond to touch, tilt, and other movements, leading to a humorous moment during a demo Wednesday when Gates erased the device's display by shaking it--like an Etch-A-Sketch. Microsoft Research is also working on Chinese Text-to-Speech (TTS) software; software that builds 3-D models from Renaissance paintings and other images; and SideShow, an amazing bit of software that uses a display-mounted camera to determine whether the user is facing the screen and interacting with the computer or speaking to someone else in the room--the user interacts with the PC by voice with an animated on-screen avatar that the system visually constructs, on the fly, to resemble the user.
"The open, academic structure at Microsoft Research, combined with an effective technology-transfer process, has produced numerous contributions to Microsoft products during our first decade," said Rick Rashid, the senior vice president of Microsoft Research. "But Bill and I are really looking forward to Microsoft Research's teenage years. Computing is rapidly approaching an inflection point where science fiction writers' predictions of helpful, ubiquitous, and seamless technology will become a reality." For more information about Microsoft Research and the milestones it has reached in its first 10 years, visit the Microsoft Web site.