Innovation in Robotics: Government Uses?

Fact: Last week’s Automatica 2008, the big international robotics and automation trade-show, had “over 30,000 trade visitors from around 90 countries,” visiting 900 exhibitors’ booths, according to the conference wrap-up

Analysis: When I spoke recently at an IARPA conference in Orlando, and was asked to give a glimpse into Microsoft’s vision of R&D trends, one of the possibly surprising areas I highlighted was robotics.  We’re making a major push in that area, for reasons that might not be intuitive based on an old-fashioned impression of what Microsoft offers in the government realm.  More on the intelligence community’s potential use below.

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“The Largest Social Network Ever Analyzed”

FACT: According to ComScore data cited in a story in Monday’s FInancial Times, “Facebook, the fast-growing social network, has taken a significant lead over MySpace in visitor numbers for the first time… Facebook attracted more than 123 million unique visitors in May, an increase of 162 per cent over the same period last year… That compared with 114.6 million unique visitors at MySpace, Facebook’s leading rival, whose traffic grew just 5 per cent during the same period… The findings mark the first time that Facebook, launched in 2004, has taken a significant lead in unique visitors, [and] come at a time of change inside Facebook, as the one-time upstart attempts to transform itself into a leading media company.

ANALYSIS:  This week several members of the Microsoft Institute met in Redmond with a visiting friend from government, and among other talks we had a very interesting discussion with Eric Horvitz, a Microsoft Research principal researcher and manager.  Eric’s well known for his work in artificial intelligence and currently serves as president of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI).

We talked about one of Eric’s recent projects for quite a while: “Planetary-Scale Views on a Large Instant-Messaging Network,” a project which has been described by his co-author as “the largest social network ever analyzed.” 

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Social Networking in Egypt Takes a Political Turn

FACT: In the past two days, reporters for the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post have each written accounts of the ongoing confrontation in Egypt between the government and online activists – the “Facebook Revolution” as the Post reporter terms it, hyperbolically. One interesting aspect: the two accounts are not carried as actual news stories in the “newspaper” (real or virtual), but as blog posts by the reporters on dedicated foreign-correspondent blogs. The Washington Post account is on the “PostGlobal” uber-blogsite, under Jack Fairweather’s “Islam’s Advance” blog, while the L.A. Times account is on the “Babylon & Beyond” blog, which carries a sub-head of “Observations from Iraq, Iran, Israel, the Arab World and Beyond.”

ANALYSIS: Up to now there’s been little coverage in traditional American media outlets of the emerging political tenor of some social networks in Egypt over the past several months. Major newspapers and the cable-news channels have not explored the topic, but I just returned from some time in Egypt and I learned that of course it is a widely covered and discussed topic there.  One young woman in her 30s, an urban professional, told me “I’m on Facebook all day long!”

Every morning outside my hotel room I would find an English-language newspaper, and for many days in a row it was a different paper – often because they were weekly editions.  That gave me the opportunity to read a variety of opinions from a somewhat broad band, as measured in “distance to/from the government position.”  

Helpfully, on May 6 2008 the Egyptian Mail included a summary of the raging controversy over Facebook, noting that “In Egypt, Facebook is the stage for the latest twist in the generation gap, playing host to politically hungry young Egyptians eager to take on their ageing leader.”  Only at the end of the article did I notice that it was reprinted from a New-York-based Egyptian blogger, the respected Mona Eltahawwy.

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Social (Network) Science

Fact: The social-networking site LinkedIn claims as users “17,000,000+ Professionals, 500,000+ Senior Executives, Executives from 498 Fortune 500 companies, [and] 65,000 new Professionals every week.”

Analysis: Since I hold the title of “chief technology officer” for my group at Microsoft, I regularly check the widely-read blog CTOvision, written by Bob Gourley, CTO of Crucial Point.

CollaborationlogosYesterday he posted a very solid summary of several social networking tools, including my preferred LinkedIn.  If you’re not up to speed on the genre it is a helpful cheatsheet and “buyer’s guide.”

The technology area deserves the attention. There are a dozen or more such sites for each that Gourley covers, and he chooses the ones that have shown growth and potential longevity; why invest any time adding personal data to a site just to watch it disappear? We’ve all had that happen. And yet hockey-stick growth has to be managed – LinkedIn for example has come in for some critical attention for some snafus along the way.

Let’s look at some efforts to understand more about the science behind the software….

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