Bing vs Google, the quiet semantic war

On Wednesday night I had dinner at a burger joint with four old friends; two work in the intelligence community today on top-secret programs, and two others are technologists in the private sector who have done IC work for years. The five of us share a particular interest besides good burgers: semantic technology.

Oh, we talked about mobile phones (iPhones were whipped out as was my Windows Phone, and apps debated) and cloud storage (they were stunned that Microsoft gives 25 gigabytes of free cloud storage with free Skydrive accounts, compared to the puny 2 gig they’d been using on DropBox).

But we kept returning to semantic web discussions, semantic approaches, semantic software. One of these guys goes back to the DAML days of DARPA fame, the guys on the government side are using semantic software operationally, and we all are firm believers in Our Glorious Semantic Future.

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Slate of the Union Day

Today is “Slate of the Union” day, when the two most charismatic individuals in recent American history go on stage and attempt to reclaim mantles as innovators. I’ll leave aside the fellow with lower poll numbers for now (President Obama). More eyes in the tech world will be watching as Steve Jobs makes his newest product announcement, the Apple tablet/Tabloid/iSlate thing iPad (it’s official).

Back in the late 1980s I worked for the legendary “Mayor of Silicon Valley” Tom McEnery (he was actually the mayor of San Jose), and we did many joint projects with Apple, particularly with CEO John Sculley, a great guy.

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Comparing Apple and Microsoft as Platforms for Developers

I missed October’s Professional Developers Conference (PDC) in Los Angeles this year because of a couple of other conferences and meetings in other cities. But of course I was happy to see the coverage in the technology press and blogs, so much of it positive about our announcement on Windows Azure and the Azure Services Platform.

Then I read Joe Wilcox over on his “Apple Watch” blog at eWeek, on “What Apple Needs to Know about Azure, Windows 7.” It’s striking in its conclusions, particularly coming from a longtime Apple watcher:

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Google, Microsoft, and Medical Research

Fact: Two stark numbers are published today about Google co-founder Sergey Brin. First, the annual update of the “Forbes 400″ wealthiest billionaires reports that Brin’s personal net worth is $15.9 billion (though that’s down some $2.7 billion from last year, due to the decline of Google’s stock price by 40% since last November).  More importantly, Brin himself wrote in his personal blog today that by having genetic research done on himself, “I learned something very important to me — I carry the G2019S mutation… it is clear that I have a markedly higher chance of developing Parkinson’s in my lifetime than the average person. In fact, it is somewhere between 20% to 80% depending on the study and how you measure.”

Analysis: Sergey Brin’s own blog account of his discovery is a remarkably personal and touching piece, dealing with his mother and her own belated diagnosis of Parkinson’s, and the scientific boundaries of current genetic research and the implications one can draw from this immature field of science.

(c) AP Photo, Paul Sakuma

This was only the second post on Sergey’s new blog; the blog’s name is “Too” – and the first post merely stated the rationale for that name (“Welcome to my personal blog. While Google is a play on googol, too is a play on the much smaller number – two. It also means ‘in addition,’ as this blog reflects my life outside of work”). 

If his refreshing honesty and thoughtfulness today are going to be the calibre of his writing, I’m going to be a regular reader. 

His piece reminds me of Steve Jobs’ modern classic, his 2005 Stanford Commencement Address.  If you’ve never read that, then stop reading my words right now, and go read that. You’ll find yourself over the weekend thinking about your own approach to life.

But back to Brin and genetic research.  It will be interesting to watch what Google’s research arm is able to do in the area of medical and health research.  To make progress in bioengineering and genetics, “organizing the world’s information” is absolutely paramount and of course that’s Google’s mission statement.

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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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TechFest and its Value

I am spending much of the week at Microsoft Research’s annual TechFest, which is proving to be an absolutely mind-blowing experience.  So much, so cool, so out there….

There’s been some good press about the show already (ComputerWorld, and ITWorld for example), and the official Microsoft TechFest site has a wealth of material.  The media were allowed in on the “Public Day” to report on a carefully selected subset of the projects being displayed. But I think the coverage has missed an important difference between this show and something like COMDEX or CeBIT.

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