Modeling the World
Published: May 17, 2010
We don’t often think about how complex life really is. Take the relatively simple task of commuting to and from work: it is, in fact, a complicated interplay of variables such as weather, train delays, accidents, traffic patterns, road construction, etc. You can however, take steps to shorten your commute – using a good, predictive understanding of a few of these variables. In fact, you probably are already taking these inputs and instinctively building a predictive model that you act on daily to get to your destination more quickly.
Now, when we apply the same method to very complex tasks, this modeling approach becomes much more challenging. Recent world events clearly demonstrated our inability to process vast amounts of information and variables that would have helped to more accurately predict the behavior of global financial markets or the occurrence and impact of a volcano eruption in Iceland.
To make sense of issues like these, researchers, engineers and analysts create computer models of the almost infinite number of possible interactions in complex systems. But, they need increasingly more sophisticated computer models to better understand how the world behaves and to make fact-based predictions about the future. And, to do this, it requires a tremendous amount of computing power to process and examine the massive data deluge from cameras, digital sensors and precision instruments of all kinds. This is the key to creating more accurate and realistic models that expose the hidden meaning of data, which gives us the kind of insight we need to solve a myriad of challenges.
We have made great strides in our ability to build these kinds of computer models, and yet they are still too difficult, expensive and time consuming to manage. Today, even the most complicated data-rich simulations cannot fully capture all of the intricacies and dependencies of the systems they are trying to model. That is why, across the scientific and engineering world, it is so hard to say with any certainty when or where the next volcano will erupt and what flight patterns it might affect, or to more accurately predict something like a global flu pandemic. So far, we just cannot collect, correlate and compute enough data to create an accurate forecast of the real world.
But this is about to change.
Innovations in technology are transforming our ability to measure, monitor and model how the world behaves. The implication for scientific research is profound, and it will transform the way we tackle global challenges like health care and climate change. It will also have a huge impact on engineering and business, delivering breakthroughs that could lead to the creation of new products, new businesses and even new industries.
I want you to be the first to know about a new effort focused specifically on empowering millions of the world’s smartest problem solvers. Today, I am happy to introduce Microsoft’s Technical Computing initiative.
Our goal is to unleash the power of pervasive, accurate, real-time modeling to help people and organizations achieve their objectives and realize their potential. We are bringing together some of the brightest minds in the technical computing community across industry, academia and science at www.modelingtheworld.com to discuss trends, challenges and shared opportunities.
New advances provide the foundation for tools and applications that will make technical computing more affordable and accessible where mathematical and computational principles are applied to solve practical problems. One day soon, complicated tasks like building a sophisticated computer model that would typically take a team of advanced software programmers months to build and days to run, will be accomplished in a single afternoon by a scientist, engineer or analyst working at the PC on their desktop. And as technology continues to advance, these models will become more complete and accurate in the way they represent the world. This will speed our ability to test new ideas, improve processes and advance our understanding of systems.
Our technical computing initiative reflects the best of Microsoft’s heritage. Ever since Bill Gates articulated the then far-fetched vision of “a computer on every desktop” in the early 1980’s, Microsoft has been at the forefront of expanding the power and reach of computing to benefit the world. As someone who worked closely with Bill for many years at Microsoft, I am happy to share with you that the passion behind that vision is fully alive at Microsoft and is carried out in the creation of our new Technical Computing group.
Enabling more people to make better predictions
We have seen the impact of making greater computing power more available firsthand through our investments in high performance computing (HPC) over the past five years. Scientists, engineers and analysts in organizations of all sizes and sectors are finding that using distributed computational power creates societal impact, fuels scientific breakthroughs and delivers competitive advantages. For example, we have seen remarkable results from some of our current customers:
Our Technical Computing direction
Collaborating closely with partners across industry and academia, we must now extend the reach of technical computing even further to help predictive modelers and data explorers make faster, more accurate predictions.
As we build the Technical Computing initiative, we will invest in three core areas:
There is so much left to be discovered and so many questions yet to be answered in the fascinating world around us. We believe the technical computing community will show us that we have not seen anything yet. Imagine just some of the breakthroughs this community could make possible:
With an ambitious charter in hand, this new team is ready to build on our progress to-date and execute Microsoft’s technical computing vision over the months and years ahead. We will steadily invest in the right technologies, tools and talent, and work to bring together the technical computing community.
I invite you to visit www.modelingtheworld.com today. We welcome your ideas and feedback. I look forward to making this journey with you and others who want to answer the world’s biggest questions, discover solutions to problems that seem impossible and uncover a host of new opportunities to change the world we live in for the better.