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Microsoft CTO Kevin Scott. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

Machine learning and artificial intelligence are popular concepts in the tech world, but one of Microsoft’s top executives sees the technologies as must-haves for companies of all kinds.

Microsoft Chief Technology Officer Kevin Scott said machine learning is something every developer at every company needs to know about, right now. When organizations talk about futuristic-sounding technologies there’s a tendency to think that they will never come to fruition, and even if they do they’re a long way off. Not so with machine learning. And while AI is big today, Scott says the potential is limitless down the road.

“Even when it doesn’t seem like it’s going be relevant right now, progress is happening so quickly that if you wait too long you are going to be in this position where you are scrambling to catch up,” Scott said at the 2019 GeekWire Cloud Summit.

Attendees at the Cloud Summit agree. We asked which technologies are at the top of their minds over the next two to three years. Artificial intelligence/machine learning were the most popular answer with 71 percent.

(Slido Poll)

 

One of the most hyped technologies on the horizon is quantum computing, though our attendees didn’t see it as a major factor in the near future. Quantum computing is different from classical digital computing in that it relies on the manipulation of quantum bits, or qubits, that can hold different values simultaneously until the result of the computation is read out. That means Quantum computers should be able to solve problems that classical computers can’t solve, even if they run their algorithms for thousands of years.

Many of the scientific issues of quantum computing have been settled, Scott said, and the remaining challenges are engineering problems. “Early curiosity” in this burgeoning concept will pay dividends for companies willing to make the leap, Scott said.

That said, Scott doesn’t see fully functional quantum computers hitting the market anytime soon. And while he wouldn’t recommend building business models on the back of the technology yet, it is on the horizon, and the industry should take notice.

“For me, it’s a question of when, not if,” Scott said.

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