The Microsoft Ignite conference, held in Chicago earlier this month, clearly demonstrated how CEO Satya Nadella has changed Microsoft’s vision -- especially when it comes to big data and the road to quantum computers.

We got to see the real direction the company is taking across multi-device, intelligent cloud and new business processes. However, something that really made me think of what disruption and innovation means was the keynote session. During the presentation, Harry Shum, EVP of Microsoft Research, showed us his team's short- and long-term priorities. Quoting Bill Gates, Shum said that people tend to overestimate what they can do in one year, but largely underestimate what can be done in 10 years.

Here are the key points on which the Microsoft Research team is addressing right now:

The Big Data Apocalypse: The fact that we have big data (44 zettabytes to be reached) does not mean that they make big sense. One way to create this “sense,” introduced by Microsoft, is data visualization. This approach allows the end users to search large amounts of data, and work with them without complex operations, in a more friendly way.

The Limit of Human Intelligence: Artificial Intelligence will overtake human intelligence. We are now seeing the benefit of research that started years ago. Computer vision and computer training is considerered real today. One example is -- a website that is able to tell how old your face looks. That's the magic of machine learning, where computers do not just execute, but also learn things. Results show us that computer vision is getting more precise than human perception.

Quantum Computers: For all people in the IT domain, quantum computers should mean nothing less than “THE legend”; and if you are not shocked by the principle of quantum computer, it means that you didn’t understand what its real potential is. In a nutshell: Standard computers use binary digits (bits) which can be 0 or 1. Now, imagine that you can superpose these values to get qubits, which can be at the same time 0 and 1. Looking ahead, quantum computers will do calculations that today are almost impossible. They will potentially lead to a revolution that will make today’s super computer look like a chalkboard!

First Picture of a Quantum Computer created in Microsoft’s Lab in Copenhagen

What seemed impossible few years back has become probable today. In 2006, Microsoft created the Station Q with a specific focus on quantum computation. Today, the initial results are coming through with applications in such fields as healthcare and health science, energy, environment and, of course, cloud and machine learning.

The quantum computer's promise is simply stated. It may open up a sea of new possibilities that will not only help machines to speed up processes, but will also enable us to ask questions that we cannot even imagine today. Data crunching that currently takes days or months of calculation, will be possible in hours or minutes.

To be a pioneer in innovation, we have to find the answers to problems we haven't even defined yet.

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