In an exclusive interview with Information Age, Michael Wignall – CTO, Microsoft UK – discusses his standout disruptive technology predictions
What are your standout technology predictions?
I’ve got three. And, I think they will fundamentally impact all sectors and organisations big and small, as well as consumers and organisations.
Artificial intelligence – we’re at this tipping point with this. A combination of computer data storage and algorithms have meant that AI capability has reached human parity in things like voice translation and machines translation, image recognition, those types of things. We’ll only continue to see AI improve and become more pervasive and included in many, many more organisations and technologies.
The ramifications of that from a structure perspective are going to be massive, particularly on the job front; around potentially displacing jobs, but also creating new jobs and new opportunities. That’s going to be a huge.
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The second, which is kind of linked, is mixed reality. This has been bubbling around for a while, but I think over the next five years we’ll see a huge explosion in this area. It’s actually less about tech, it’s more about the social adoption.
If you think about the kind of primary computing paradigms we’ve seen in Microsoft’s time, over last 43 years, we’ve had the PC/desktop era, keyboard/mouse interface, which we did a really good job at providing platforms for. Then we moved into the mobile era, where most people would consume data through a handheld device or a mix, and consume across PC and mobile.
I think the next computing paradigm absolutely is mixed reality – where any canvass can be a computing interface. We can then use capabilities like natural language and AI to talk to devices and have a multi-sense, multi-device experience. Mixed reality is the second major disruption technology. Some of it needs social acceptance; I think it’ll start in the workplace and then move into the consumer world. Some examples previously tried to start in the consumer world and I think they didn’t go down too well.
The final one is quantum computing. From a disruptive perspective, if we think of some of the world’s biggest problems, global climate change (for example) – these are really big, hard problems. We basically can’t solve them right now with classical computers, because the problem size becomes intractable. And with quantum computing we can. With the nature of quantum mechanics, we can tackle some of these problems in a very different way.
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Microsoft is building a quantum computer with engineers, computer scientists and physicists to try to build a scalable qubit that we can then look to tackle those problems. That again will give some of the computing power needed that will break Moore’s Law with the aid of AI and mixed reality.
I think the combination of these three technologies together, over the next five years, will drastically disrupt industries and consumers alike.
Is there a timeline with the quantum computing?
We’re building one now, so it’s not conceptual, it’s not just theoretical maths, it’s an engineering problem.
You’ve got to run these things at almost absolute zero, negative 273 degrees Celsius, to get the quantum bits stable, so they’re not getting interference. And we’re building these quantum computers that run at that temperature.
It’ all about scalability now. So, in the labs you can create single qubits, but you can outperform them classically right now with standard computers. We need to push above the small scale into scalable quantum computing.
I think it’s in the next few years, not 10 years out. And we envision you’re not going to have a quantum computer in your phone or your Xbox, it will be a cloud service that people can consume and then apply to the biggest problems they’re looking at.