B.Ashok on Web 3.0: Notes

One of the great things that happen at the GE John F. Welch Technology Center is that we never have a dearth of people coming in on speaking engagements. I hope they enjoy speaking to us as much as we do listening to them.

Yesterday, we had B. Ashok (aka Bash) from Microsoft Research come in to talk to us about Web 3.0. I took some notes, here they are. Any factual or interpretive errors are mine, not Ashok’s.

10:33 – Starting , intro by Babu. Ashok is Director at Microsoft Research in Bangalore. MS in Comp. Sci at UW-Madison and joined Microsoft 18 years ago.


10:36 Overview of MS Research
Estd. in 1991. MSR India , 5th lab(2005)
Goal: 1. High quality research (and then) flowing technology to MS products. MSR published 20-25% of papers in major journals like SIG*

Ashok runs a group called Advanced Development and Prototyping.

MSR India has a new slot called Asst. Researcher for people who have completed undergrad. So undergrads can work at MSR for two years and then move on to a school for Ms/PhD.

This year they got an intern from Pakistan ! Wow ! Major issues with Visa as usual 🙂

Ashok talks about what MSR is doing in India.

Areas of research:
Seven Key areas in research in in MSR, India:

  1. Algorithms
  2. Crypto and Applied Maths
  3. Digital Geographies
  4. Mobility, Networking and Systems
  5. Rigorous Software Engineering
  6. Multilingual Systems
  7. Technology for Emerging Markets

10:42: Someone asks a brilliant question. Who funds you if you do not have a mandate to go to products. Ashok answers, “Collectively research impacts product. But anybody is not individually accountable. Funding comes from MS corporate.”

Rigorous Software Engineering creates tools for program analysis. One direct impact was PREFast in Visual Studio 2008.

Technology for Emerging Markets came out with Multipoint SDK, shipped in Windows.

Advanced Development and Prototyping (Ashok’s group). 7-8 software engineers are in this team. Charter is to impact product by giving them a product or a feature.

MSR impacts a lot !
DirectX came from MSR ! Microsoft Surface came from MSR ! As an exmaple, for SQL Server, researchers have commit permission on the product codebase to go and make code impact directly.

10:51: Nice chart on the differences between 1.0 and 2.0 [will put this up once I get access]

Web Trends: What are the things we are seeing that could lead to Web 3.0

10:56: Semantic Web
Tim Berners Lee’s vision on Web 3.0. Ashok talks about ontologies and typed databases.  Emerging W3C standards like RDFS, OWL. Microsoft acquired PowerSet in June 2008. Ashok thinks this is far away.Brief discussion on Freebase, Parallax and PowerSet.

11:04: Richer Media and Online TV
BBC iPlayer is responsible for more than 10% of all internet traffic in the UK. Major reason is bandwidth availability. Prediction is that we will probably not have cable anymore 🙂 I smell RIAA equivalent ! Talk about Microsoft + GE/NBC collaboration on Silverlight (NBCOlympics.com)

11:08: Prediction Engines
Better known as “Amazon Recommendations” :). Also companies like Farecast which do airline ticket prediction. On the same flight, tickets could be sold at 30-40 different price points !! Farecast tries to model that predict minima.

11:12 Cross-Lingual Web
Machine translation that will enable any web site to be viewed on any language. Currently, Google is the best. But still not there yet. There is an annual competition and academia working on translation is better than the industry. MS is good in Chinese, Portuguese.

Reminds me of the joke about translating “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” Computer translation: “Vodka ready, meat uncooked” (Source: forgotten)

11:16 Devices with Location Sensitivity
Duke Univ has recently come out with “Virtual Sticky Notes“. One example is that the Car console is on the web and as soon as it finds out that you are low on gas, it looks up the nearest gas station and alerts you.

Microsoft’s offering in this area is “LiveMesh“, opened up recently.

11:22 Rich Internet Applications (RIA)
Key players:

  1. Adobe AIR
  2. Microsoft XAML/Silverlight
  3. OpenLaszlo platform

Sites likes Nike and BMW provide great user experience for potential customers.

Offlining is going to be important Google Gears, Moonlight (Silverlight’s open source implementation, which supports offlining where Silverlight does not (?)) is an important step in that direction.

There was some discussion around Adobe Flash versus Silverlight as a video delivery and programming platform.

11:25 Web-sites as Web Services
Discussion around mashups and portals. Microsoft has Live Services as an offering. Not much discussion here, but later in the talk we had some good discussion around web APIs.

11:28 Digital Estate
Web as a large information repository. Choices: local vs. cloud; plain vs. encrypted. Key players: Google GDrive, S3, Windows Azure.

Ashok’s Trivia quip : If you take a high-res snap every minute of your life and record every conversation, then the total space required is about 1 Terabyte. So, your digital value is about a few hundred dollars.

Proof of Possession and Proof of Retrievability becomes important. How will the cloud prove that it has your documents? Not only sufficient to retrieve but but also have an SLA around it.

11:37 Virtual Worlds
Digital Life as Second Life and digitizing our real lives such as Google Earth.

11:40 Attention Economy (nice term!)
People are paying for your attention. Does this mean just more spam ?Most people skim through stuff and not go into detail. Don’t read editorials. Lot of research is in progress to retain you onto a site.

Good question: Apart from “clicks”, what are the other metrics ?
Ashok: Still “clicks” and “time on site” reigns, but the game is changing because of mashups and web services. You are no longer sure where the data is coming from !

11:43 Conclusion

Possible glimpses into the future.
Search: You hum the tune and the search engine finds the song for you.
Web as a virtual secretary: The web guides you. Plane gets canceled; web cancels further appointments. Rebooking takes place automatically.

Immersive experiences: Virtual travel.

70% of BSOD is because of external drivers. MSR did some work on reverse engineering code and doing static analysis.

It’s not very easy to get research into the product. Research might not be the biggest thing the product team wants at a point in time. Product team needs bandwidth, too. Annual event in MS to showcase research capability. 3 day “research trade-show” every year in Seattle.

A lot of the stress working in Microsoft Product development comes from the fact that you also have to be responsible and service previous products in addition to new product development.

We wrap up — thanks to Ashok for sharing some great insights and Babu Narayanan (GE Research, computing and Decision Sciences) for putting this together.

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