Microsoft’s Mundie: IT needed to solve global woesMicrosoft’s Mundie: IT needed to solve global woes

CAMBRIDGE, Mass.–Scientists need the same sort of computer breakthrough that the spreadsheet brought to business users decades ago, says Craig Mundie, Microsoft’s chief research and strategy officer.

Mundie gave a speech at Harvard University here on Tuesday to discuss coming “disruptions” in computing and to argue that computer science is fundamental to solving daunting global problems, including energy, environment, health care, and education.

Without taking advantage of advances in computing, adjacent fields of nanotechnology and biotechnology will not move as fast as they could, he said. At the same time, he lamented how computer science is seen as “so yesterday.”

“It’s stunning how much people want to fund the fads and they don’t put any emphasis on how core computing is,” Mundie said during questions. “I hope we can come together and realize that we have to invest in the future of computing if we want a future in all these other areas.”

The Harvard talk was one of four Mundie is giving this week in an effort to stir excitement in the study of computing, with both computer science students and people in other fields, such as medicine or material science. Less than 100 students and faculty came to the Harvard talk on Tuesday where he demonstrated some of how Microsoft’s research can be applied to energy and the environment.

Computing is becoming increasingly embedded in everyday devices, in everything from phones to cars. But even though people are increasingly familiar with digital technologies, there are still disruptive changes on the near horizon, Mundie said.

“We think we understand it but in fact it’s at a time that the flux in computing overall is as great as it’s ever been,” he said.

The amount of computation that’s available will continue to increase with multicore processors, which will enable new applications. That includes what Microsoft calls “natural language processing,” where people can interact with computers in more intuitive ways than the familiar mouse and graphical user interface. An example is Microsoft’s Project Natal, motion-sensing technology where people can use arms and legs to play games.

Two other big technology changes, he said, are three-dimensional displays and cloud computing, where people can tap banks of servers over the Internet for data-intensive jobs.