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This Featured Topic summarizes what products and concepts are emerging as we head into the next five years of tech. You will find some of the big ideas in this discussion and many resources to keep you, the social innovator, informed and ahead of new developments in tech.

Big Ideas Summary

Contextual Computing. An easy way to think about contextual computing is to compare this concept to the human thought process. Humans have situational awareness, which means they can make decisions based on circumstantial factors such as where they are, who they are with, and their past experiences. Early forms of contextual computing might be already familiar, such as your phone’s GPS informing you of location based services or Netflix using machine learning to recommend movies off those you have chosen in the past or Microsoft’s Kinect being able to track who is paying attention or not by using facial recognition technology. In the next five years as research grows in this area, and inexpensive computers equipped with sensors are found in new and different places it can only be expected that the applications of this technology will significantly increase.

Advertising Learning to Adapt Online. As more and more young people who have grown up in the digital age become consumers, advertisers will need to find new ways to spread their messages online. In the next 5 years advertisers will need to find methods to reach their potential customers that require creativity and an understanding of online behaviour for example check out Microsoft’s Bing Ads Intelligence page. For example bloggers, celebrities, and thought leaders are commonly given free incentives by large companies because they carry significant influence online.

The EdTech (Education Technology) Revolution. In the past few years many advances have been made to significantly increase accessibility to a world class education online. Services such as edX, Coursera, and Udacity offer free Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs) from some of the leading post-secondary institutions in the world. Another EdTech giant, Khan Academy provides thousands of free online video lectures and exercises covering K-12 material and beyond. Even companies such as Microsoft offer education content online with Microsoft Virtual Academy. With no sign of slowing down in the next five years, continual advances will be needed to bring the most advanced educational resources to every corner of the globe.

Crowdfunding. Check out this past featured topic on crowdfunding. As people grow in the way they collaborate and share online, crowdfunding promises to use technology to reimagine funding for startups. Fundraising sites like Indiegogo and Kickstarter are just among the most popular examples of a decentralized economy for funders and to connect to new projects. Check out Kiva, CauseVox, and Custom Made, and Microsoft’s Give for Youth Portal to start developing a deeper sense of how the internet is being used to facilitate direct economic exchanges between people in ways that once required large centralized institutions.

Big Data. Big Data is becoming a very important idea in not only the tech industry, but for any company, government, or organization who want to understand the world in a deeper way than ever before. However, big data may provide information but not always with context, and while it is a useful tool for predicting outcomes this technology has limitations in explaining why these outcomes occur. Click here to learn how Microsoft is bring big data to a billion people.

Online Privacy. As more and more of the population have been raised on the internet, the idea of online privacy does not seem to concern a growing number of people. Youth are becoming more inclined to freely giving up information online for the valuable services they receive in exchange, like our daily use of search engines. In the next five years key topics in privacy will be figuring out when consumers will freely make their data available in exchange for services and when they will begin to opt out to protect their privacy. This issue has caused Microsoft to take action by launching the Your Privacy is our Policy Campaign.

Cloud and SaaS. Saas (Software as a Service) makes use of Cloud Computing to deliver one application to a multitude of users rather then a traditional one application per a desktop model. A description of Cloud would not be complete without mentioning Windows Azure, an open and flexible cloud platform. Check out this infographic from Silicon Angle on the history and future of SaaS.


This Fast Company article predicts that the future of technology is not just mobile, it’s contextual. The article will describe what types of data is needed for computers to contextualize situations and what benefits consumers can expect from this upcoming technology.

This article about machine learning from an electrical engineering and computer science professor at CalTech discusses why machines learning will be prevelant in the future and how business like Netflix have already started using this technology.

This Forbes Article predicts five trends that will drive the future of technology.

This Wall Street Journal Article introduces big data and describes both its benefits and risks for large companies.

Online Courses

A great way to start learning about the technology discussed in this Featured Topic is to take an online course. The below MOOCs all deal with technology that will continue to advance and find new applications in the next 5 years.

Machine Learning from California Institute of Technology via edX.

Software as a Service from UC Berkeley via edX.

Introduction to Artificial Intelligence instructed by Sebastian Thrun, a Research Professor of Computer Science at Stanford University via Udacity.


The App Generation by Howard Gardner and Katie Davis discusses how the "App Generation" can both be positively and negatively affected by new technology. By reading this book young social innovators can gain insight into how to build technology that favours the former.

The One World School House by Sal Khan describes how technology makes providing "a free world class education for anyone, anywhere" possible. The book is a great predictor of what technology might be created and used in the next five years for educational purposes.

Twitter Accounts and other Forums to Follow





Reddit "The Front Page of the Internet"


In this concept video Microsoft Office answers the question, "how will people get things done at work, at home, and on the go in the next 5-10 years?"

This video released by IBM predicts that future computers will be much more than “just large calculators”. Learn how computers will behave, interact, and learn like humans in the coming years through the world of cognitive computing.


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