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Microsoft researchers
Microsoft’s 17 researchers who offered predictions for 2017 and 10 years later. (Microsoft Photo)

Citing the lack of professional role models as one reason for a “dearth of women in computing,” Microsoft looked inward on Monday in an effort to inspire more young girls to pursue their STEM dreams. A post from the Redmond, Wash.-based software giant’s official blog relies on 17 women from within its global research organization to share their views on what’s likely to occur in their fields in 2017, as well as 10 years later.

It’s part of Microsoft’s nod to Computer Science Education Week and the acknowledgement that women and girls are vastly underrepresented as computer science graduates — just 20 percent, despite representing roughly 50 percent of the world’s population. Microsoft cites the “far-reaching societal and economic consequences” of falling behind on digital literacy, especially for children.

The effort harnesses insight from professionals in Microsoft research labs in Redmond, New England, the U.K., India and Asia as they share theories on machine learning, informational retrieval, artificial intelligence, game theory and more.

It even drew the attention of Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, who shared the article with his 1.16 million Twitter followers and called the predictions “fascinating.”

We’ve excerpted a few of the researchers’ predictions here. Check out the Official Microsoft Blog to read more:

Kalika Bali, researcher, India research lab

What will be the key advance in speech and natural language processing in 2017? “Our speech and language technology applications will be increasingly multilingual in 2017. That doesn’t just mean that we will add more languages to our offering. We will do that, but we also will have systems that understand, process and generate the language that an English-Spanish or a French-Arabic or a Hindi-English speaker uses when she effortlessly switches from one language to another, within the same conversation, chat and sometimes even within the same sentence.”

What will be the key advance or topic of discussion in speech and natural language processing in 2027? “Language models will be deeply entrenched in cognitive models that enable artificial intelligence (AI) systems to reason and communicate with humans relatively effortlessly, moving between and adapting to different social situations, negotiating, debating and persuading, just as humans do all the time. Computational sociolinguistic and pragmatic models will play a big role in creating socio-culturally aware AI.”

Oriana Riva, researcher, Redmond, MSR NExT:

What will be the key advance in mobile computing in 2017? “In 2017, systems will increasingly re-architect themselves to support interactions without a graphical user interface.  We’ll see fewer users installing apps on their devices and more apps turning into behind-the-scenes services for chatbots and personal digital assistants.”

What will be the key advance or topic of discussion in mobile computing in 2027? “The key advance in mobile computing by 2027 will be a significantly expanded relationship with the digital world, encompassing almost any “thing” that exists in our surroundings. We’ll engage with intelligent and personal systems that truly understand us, that we can trust and that know us well enough to anticipate and serve our needs.”

Mar Gonzalez Franco, researcher, Redmond, MSR NExT:

What will be the key advance in virtual reality in 2017? “In 2017 we will see the emergence of virtual reality devices that feature better body tracking. A positive outcome of this will be the ability to experience embodiment of virtual avatars from a first-person perspective.”

What will be the key advance or topic of virtual reality in 2027? “By 2027 we will have ubiquitous virtual reality systems that will provide such rich multisensorial experiences that will be capable of producing hallucinations which blend or alter perceived reality. Using this technology, humans will retrain, recalibrate and improve their perceptual systems. In contrast to current virtual reality systems that only stimulate visual and auditory senses, in the future the experience will expand to other sensory modalities including tactile with haptic devices.”

Olya Ohrimenko, researcher, Cambridge, U.K., research lab:

What will be the key advance in security and privacy in 2017? “Trusted hardware will inspire new kinds of applications and tools with strong security as their distinctive feature, appealing to users and programmers.”

What will be the key advance or topic of discussion in security and privacy in 2027? “Advances in hardware and cryptography will lift data privacy guarantees to a new level: Only an encrypted form of our personal data will be used in medical and administrative analyses, machine learning algorithms and our daily online activities.”

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