Monday 9/25 – Vision Keynote
Plan ahead for Monday’s Vision Keynote with Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella.
So this kicked off with me being on the wrong end of the longest walkway in Orlando. As a result, I’m viewing the keynote with 3,500 of my closest friends in overflow area #1.
The keynote predictably starts with some pro bloggers doing a morning news style variety slapstick–lots of inside jokes that I’d totally get if I had ever watched their surely witty podcasts, which I have not, so I didn’t get the inside comedy jokes. The main event predictably kicks off with an overly enthusiastic pixie pumping up the geeks by declaring all of us “change agents” that will lead our organizations into the future. She just introduced Satya, who is ostensibly Microsoft’s Steve Jobs. He is rather charismatic, but that’s not surprising considering he’s running the mothership. There is a heavy emphasis on the after-effects of the Hurricanes. “1 of 10 of you have traveled here from areas that were ravaged by Harvey, Irma, and Jose.”
Incidentally, there are either 21,000, 25,000, or 30,000+ attendees depending on who I ask. The latter estimate came courtesy of whacky announcer guy who was doing Keynote pre-game show. So, I’m guessing we can scratch that one as overly ambitious. Satya is giving all of up a pep talk by stating the obvious: “As technologists and decisions makes, we have to keep in mind the timeless values of what we do. How will we use technology to empower. Tech should embellish the power of human beings. We want tech to provide new levels of inclusiveness and bla…bla…bla…you get the idea.” Microsoft’s mission statement (in case you missed it): Empower every person and organization on the planet to achieve more! Incidentally, there is a loud breather siting directly behind my ears. Each inhale and exhale is resonating in stereo from behind whilst Sataya regales me from the huge screen in front of me. The net effect of this is that I feel like I can hear Sataya breathing and talking to me simultaneously. Lots of focus on “change”. Funny, I feel like I was listening to this exact same pitch a decade ago in San Diego at the last ever Stellent Crescendo conference. I guess the old saying is literally true: the more things change, the more they stay the same. Sataya has this quirk of saying “Microsoft three six five” as opposed to “office three sixty-five”. Since he is obviously the expert, expect me to start referring to it as “Microsoft three six five” as well. Modern Workplace They are doing a case study on Ford Motor Co. It’s a lot of buzzwords (mixed reality, collaboration, innovate) and jargon (Microsoft Hub, GitHub, multi-factor authentication). They are demoing a “Microsoft HoloLens” — allows people to collaborate in a 3D space with these goofy goggles on their face. It looks like something right out of Star Trek. The folks doing the demo are using mid air to scroll through menus that are being rendered by the sweet goggles. I’m struck by how preposterous (and expensive, ~$5,000) this sort of technology is. If we are concerned about confusion between the MS Word desktop application and the MS Word App, we ain’t passing out HoloLens goggles anytime soon.
Demos of this level of complexity always cause me to wax philosophical about the divide between technology companies like Microsoft and their customers. Clearly, Microsoft can’t just stop innovating. Meanwhile, back at good ol’ GRE, we can’t continuously introduce new technology and functionality for our users lest we risk extreme confusion, building frustration and ultimately complete abandonment. This effect is inherent in the tech company vs. customers relationship. I contend that the missing link is (and will always be) the rare individual who can translate the myriad functionality baked into tools like Microsoft three six five into user productivity. Too many IT folk simply understand the technology. Users understand their business processes. Business Analysts try to span that gap, but it would be a gross simplification of reality to contend that BAs can become expert enough in the technology or the business processes to design intelligent solutions on their own. What is needed, is a technologist, who can imbed him/herself in the business process (literally or figuratively), so that he or she can truly feel the user’s pain. In turn, the technology solution that is developed will actually serve the purpose of serving the user. Unlike the complex utopia we are being drowned in at the moment, that is the IT utopia that would actually usher in a wave of change. Business Applications We’ve moved to the Business Applications pillar of Microsoft’s strategy. We’re hearing about Dynamics 365.
- “Very rich data substrate”
- “AI-first customer applications”
That sums up what I’ve gleaned from this section.
GRE is a software company, because we develop applications. So says Satya. We need to democratize the ability to build AI apps, apparently. We are being treated to a number promotional video snippets where people in suits and lab coats are staring at arrays of mentors and pointing at graphs and things. Needless to say, I’m not convinced.
Some of these AI (Artificial Intelligence) scenarios are frighteningly close to SkyNet. They are like Rosie the Robot meets the Deathstar. I’ve seen have a dozen episodes of Black Mirror that are eeriely similar to portions of this Keynote (shivers down spine). “What if we could discover that super conductive material that would allow for lossless energy transfer?” Asks Satya “That could be the solution to our energy problem,” he contends. Of course, AI, coupled with Quantum computing, would facilitate something like this. A panel of experts (mathematicians, physicists, computer scientists) is attempting to do a “Quantum Computing for Dummies” mini-symposium. So far, it ain’t working…for me. We are so far afield from the task at hand, that I’m mildly annoyed. We are getting a Klein-Gordon equation breakdown. The dude next to me just yawned; the guy behind me stopped breathing; people are starting to leave the room. My (dirty) chai tea latte is wearing off, I’m getting drowsy. “Abstract and esoteric” – that is how this discussion was just described. That was an apt assessment. This entire presentation reminded me of high school: a bunch of topics that I barely understood, would likely never use again in my life, and was happy to be done with.