Microsoft is 40 years old this weekend. To mark the occasion, cofounder Bill Gates sent a forward-looking memo to the company’s more than 100,000 employees.
The six-paragraph letter (which was leaked, of course) focuses heavily not on the four decades that preceded it, but rather on Microsoft’s future–and what he sees on the horizon for computing generally.
“We are nearing the point where computers and robots will be able to see, move, and interact naturally, unlocking many new applications and empowering people even more,” writes Gates. The letter doesn’t reveal any grand visionary revelations about the future of tech that we haven’t heard elsewhere. But from it, one can get a clearer idea of where the company aims to focus its efforts in the future.
One of the projects that Gates specifically lauds is Cortana, the artificially intelligent personal assistant for Windows mobile devices and soon, PCs as well. It’s Microsoft’s answer to Google Now and Siri, the latter of which we haven’t heard much about from Apple lately. I don’t know about you, but my most frequent use case for Siri is when I shift my weight slightly in my chair and my ass inadvertently summons her for no reason. That isn’t to say that voice recognition isn’t going become a commonplace means of interacting with machines in the future. Indeed, Microsoft is clearly betting on it.
In fact, speech recognition is getting so good that computers can now act as translators between human beings. Skype Translator is Microsoft’s attempt to achieve exactly that, something that Gates calls out with pride in his letter. Of course, Microsoft isn’t the only company working on this technology, but its eventual inclusion in a product as widely used as Skype is a pretty big deal.
By far the most jaw-dropping and unexpected thing Microsoft unveiled at its Windows 10 event in January was HoloLens. The holographic augmented reality glasses open up all kinds of applications in gaming and design, which is really just the beginning. Like Oculus Rift, HoloLens appears poised to change the way people interact with machines and the physical world itself.
In addition to calling out these three products directly, Gates hints at a future push to challenge the digital divide among consumers of different backgrounds, experiences, and geographies:
In the coming years, Microsoft has the opportunity to reach even more people and organizations around the world. Technology is still out of reach for many people, because it is complex or expensive, or they simply do not have access. So I hope you will think about what you can do to make the power of technology accessible to everyone, to connect people to each other, and make personal computing available everywhere even as the very notion of what a PC delivers makes its way into all devices.