Chairman & CEO / Microsoft
The great journey of humanity has not been to sunny beaches with margaritas, volleyball and a quick dip in the waves, if we are to believe Microsoft CEO Satya Nadell (though it seems incredible). Humanity is headed elsewhere, according to the Indian-American, tech visionary -and beach volleyball doesn’t seem to be part of the picture.
“We have beenon this continuous journeytowards human-computer symbiosis for several decades,” says Nadell. “Starting with Vannevar Bush’s vision that he outlined in his seminal 1945 essay As We May Think, Bush envisioned a futuristic device called “memex” that would collect knowledge, make it easy for humans to retrieve that knowledge with “exceeding speed and flexibility”. It’s fascinating to see that someone postulated, even back then, so vividly what an intuitive relationship between humans and computing could be.”
This relationship is about to get much closer with the launch of Microsoft’s new Bing AI-powered search platform.
Instead of lists of links AI search platforms can answer questions, or prompts, in natural language – albeit with mixed results up to this moment. The AI engines can even do tasks. Nadell’s first prompt was a request to translate a poem by the medieval Persian mystic Rumi from Urdu to English. That was when he saw the light at the end of a very long tunnel.
“Just as we can’t imagine computing today without a keyboard, mouse, or multitouch, going forward, we won’t be able to imagine computing without copilots and natural language prompts that intuitively help us with continuation, summarization, chain of thought reasoning, reviewing, modifying, and acting,” told Microsoft employees at a recent company event.
This is a whole new game.
“I think that this technology is going to reshape pretty much every software category.”
And just maybe as people move from conventional search engines to AI-driven ones, they will move to Bing from Google.
“It’s a new paradigm for search,” Nadell told Microsoft employees at Bing’s February AI relaunch. “Rapid innovation is going to come. In fact, a race starts today in terms of what you can expect. And we’re going to move; we’re going to move fast. And for us, every day, we want to bring out new things, and most importantly, we want to have a lot of fun innovating again in search, because it’s high time.”
But the competition may be stiff.
Everybody knows how Google started in a garage in Silicon Valley’s Menlo Park neighborhood in 1998 as founders Larry Page and Sergei Brin dreamt of making all the world’s knowledge accessible and doing no evil. When former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer unveiled Microsoft’s Bing search engine in May 2009 Google was a very different company with an 86% market share dwarfing competitors Yahoo and Baidu.
As of April 2023, Google still had 87% of the search engine market under control compared to Bing’s 7%. Nadell’s great hope is to see that change.
“How should Spring bring forth a garden on hard stone?,” asked Rumi in the 13th century.
For Nadell, the AI revolution is a chance to turn back the clock and upend the search engine category. Revenue in search advertising is expected to rise to $279 billion in 2023, according to Statista, and grow to $389 billion in 2027. Nadell’s goal is to catch that growth.
But behind the numbers there Is a sense of mission for the Chicago Booth School of Business alumnus. At the launch of Bing’s AI platform in February he told of a trip he had made to India, a country of 1.4 billion people and 780 languages.
There he saw an Indian OpenAI developer presenting a translation tool which would automatically translate from language to language and from text to speech, radically democratizing discourse.
“Can we use technology to overcome the challenges that people and organizations and countries face?”
“I grew up in India. I dreamt every day that someday the Industrial Revolution will get evenly distributed across the world,” said Nadell at the time. “And here I was, seeing something so profound, something that was developed by the folks at OpenAI in the West Coast of the United States a few months earlier, used by a developer locally to have an impact on a rural farmer. That, to me, is what gives me meaning, and I think gives us all meaning in our industry.”
Based on that experience Nadell now sees a future where AI is involved in all human-computer interaction.
“We think there are two things that are emerging,” added Nadell at AI-powered Bing’s launch. “One is this conversational intelligence agents. I think they are going to be things that we’re going to have, everywhere we go. All computer interaction is going to be mediated with an agent helping you. In fact, we’re going to have this notion of a copilot that’s going to be there across every application canvas inside of an operating system shell in a browser.”
And as for the rest of us whose services may no longer be required? In the past Nadell, has discussed the eventual necessity of a Universal Basic Income, as people are replaced by technology. Perhaps the beach beckons after all …