Tuesday, August 28, 2007

How societies grow and innovate

My new job puts me back in marketing, doing a new phone, but one special thing about the team is that I'm part of Microsoft Research.  My VP, Rick Rashid (who grew up right next to Wisconsin, in Iowa, by the way) is an old-timer who has followed computer technology forever and has a good sense for what will happen in the future.  Today I listened to a podcast interview with him where he speculates on a few key trends:

  • Yes, the world is moving to 5 big computers that will be run by Microsoft, Google, Amazon, eBay, and Salesforce.com.
  • Communication -- the biggest barrier to innovation -- is undergoing a huge transformation as new technologies (search, social networking, etc.) make it far easier for people in different fields to share their similarities and breed more solutions to common problems.
  • Massively-distributed sensors, measuring everything from weather to traffic patterns, will enable another level of understanding about the world and our ability to manipulate it.

It would be interesting to pair Rick up with Paul Romer, subject of another podcast interview on Econtalk this week, who studies economic growth.  Romer, an ex-physicist turned economist was trained to think about conservation of matter and wonders how economists can talk about "increased output" and "productivity growth" when the total supply of inputs in the Universe is constant.  The answer is that the way things are organized is what leads to innovation and what makes the world a better place.  Rick and the 800 PhDs of MSR are right at the forefront of figuring out how to organize things better.

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