Rick Rashid, chief research officer for Microsoft was in China last week at the country's biggest annual tech conference. As he began his remarks, a screen provided a Mandarin translation in real time. But a few minutes later something weird happened. His words began to emanate from a speaker, in Mandarin, in Rashid's own voice.
At that point, he said, he had to "wait for the audience to quit clapping." Using what he calls "deep neural networks," this new generation of speech recognition has reduced errors by 30% over previous models. Real time translation, in a speaker's real voice: Networking will never be the same.
But an innovation behemoth like Microsoft has bigger plans that just upgrading human speech. The underlying concept -- of all their research on a dozen different fronts -- is being able to manage "Big Data" in a fast and intelligent manner. Whether it's for traffic modeling or trying to figure out what causes patients to get readmitted to the hospital within the first 30 days of discharge, placing seemingly random variables in a coherent order is the key to making networks work for us.
Improving your afternoon commute might not seem as important as healing the sick, but in Rashid's mind they're both a function of creating systems that can handle dynamic, large-volume data streams. "It doesn't really matter what the device is," Rashid said Tuesday at The Atlantic's Big Science Summit in San Jose, Calif., "as long as they all talk to each other."
According to Jim Zemlin, executive director of the Linux Foundation, we're moving from "a product-centric to a services-centric world ... That world is called the cloud." He said that hardware is just a way to get people to the services they want. Amazon, for example, loses a few dollars on every Kindle, but that's not the point. It's the connection to their network that's worth money.
Allan Leinwand, CTO of Platform Development at ServiceNow, uses Paypal as an example. "You know you want to use this service of paying for something," he says, so you outsource the transaction through the cloud to a more efficient operator. "Software as a Service" is the buzzword he uses. "When you log into Gmail you don't see it."
And that's the beauty of the cloud. No messy wires, no time-consuming transactions. It all just ... happens. And increasing that seamlessness is everybody's goal.
The cloud has great applications up in the real clouds as well. Parimal Kopardekar
, principle investigator of NASA's NextGen Airspace Project is using network computing power to reduce total cost of air transport by allowing more aircraft in the sky at the same time. He says that 25% of aircraft get delayed, and 75% of those are delayed by the weather. So Kopardekar's company is fusing available information -- weather reports, airborne sensors, trajectory calculations -- to plot the optimal flight trajectory at any given moment.
From simple speech to complex flight, everything we do comes down to the transmission of data. But just having data won't get you understood or move you from place to place. It's not about the size of your network; it's how you use it.