Bill Gates Touts Contextually-aware Computing

July 15, 2013, 8:24 PM ET

Bill Gates Touts Contextually-aware Computing

Clint Boulton

Microsoft Corp. Chairman Bill Gates touched briefly upon privacy issues Monday in a keynote speech given at Microsoft Research Faculty Summit. The bulk of his talk concerned the rise of “personal agent” technology, which uses data from sensors embedded in mobile devices, scheduling software and social connections to help users discover “deep insights.” Mr. Gates touched only briefly on data privacy, which has emerged as a hot button issue since the revelations by Edward Snowden of the extent of the National Security Agency’s efforts to gather communications data about U.S. citizens.Mr. Gates explained that software built to be more aware of a user’s surroundings and activities could help in a number of “personal-assistant”-like tasks from recommending and buying gifts for friends to planning trips to discovering the location of a co-worker using data pulled from their online calendars. “It really seems like that idea of the powerful assistant that can help us get things done, help us drive deep insights…  the progress we’ll make in the next five years and ten years will be really unbelievable,” Mr. Gates said.

Contextually-aware computing, which includes “personal assistant technology,” enables software actions to be triggered on behalf of users via contextual data—like a user’s location as determined by their mobile device sensors –without requiring users to proactively engage with the software. But it has its tradeoffs — namely privacy concerns. For it to work properly, end users will have to grant devices and applications permission to track them in their personal and professional lives.

Mr. Gates touched only briefly on online privacy concerns Monday, which seemed odd given recent revelations concerning the company’s role in the NSA’s PRISM program as leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden.  ”The general issue of online, in which context should you be able to reliably tell who something is, what sort of trust do you want to have… that’s going to be debated endlessly,” Mr. Gates said. However, he said he preferred to focus on the upsides to software innovation. “I think we will be more connected,” Mr. Gates said.

Mr. Gates also said that most Microsoft applications suites such as Office, have “all sorts of latent capability” most people don’t use because they don’t know about or know how to use it. “It is surprising how little we’ve had a breakthrough in terms of how you fully take advantage of software,” Mr. Gates said. He attributed part of the learning gap to past “mistakes” Microsoft has made, such as the company’s Bob user interfacefor Windows, which was intended to help users accomplish tasks.  However, he said technologies such as new user interfaces, speech, machine learning and contextually-aware computing are emerging, supported by greater compute and storage capabilities. “The prize when you do these things is very large in a commercial sense,” Mr. Gates.

Microsoft rivals such as Google Inc. are intent on taking advantage of contextually-aware computing. The company’s Motorola Mobility LLC hardware subsidiary this fall will launch the Moto X, a smartphone whose sensors will know when a person is driving and automatically offer them the ability to give voice commands to get information from the device, including making calls or getting directions.

Mr. Gates stepped down from full-time duties at Microsoft in 2008. Since that timeApple Inc., Google and other companies have overtaken Microsoft in mobile computing, launching smartphones and tablets millions of people use to surf the Web and access applications.

Last Thursday, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer announced a significant realignment of the company, essentially an organizational streamlining intended to help Microsoft innovate faster. It could also make the company more nimble as it competes with Google and Apple in contextually-aware computing.

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (, the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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