Forget Windows 8, Microsoft is thinking more futuristic than that: On Tuesday, the company that drove the modern PC era announced it had appointed a respected government scientist and computer science professor to help lead its global research efforts.
Dr. Jeannette Wing, most recently head of Carnegie Mellon University’s computer science department, will step down from her role there in January 2013 to take on the position of vice president, head of Microsoft Research International, as Carnegie Mellon and Microsoft revealed.
Wing also previously served as assistant director of the U.S. National Science Foundation’s Computer & Information Science and Engineering (CISE) effort.
Among other contributions to various fields, Wing is known for her promotion of “computational thinking,” a concept that relates to how humans conceive of how computers work, and how humans and computers can better work together. After all, the human brain is itself the ultimate computer.
A summary of one of Dr. Wing’s talks from 2009 at Yahoo Labs provides more background on just what she’s getting at with computational thinking.
Here’s a video of a talk on computational thinking Wing gave at Carnegie Mellon’s campus in Doha, Qatar in April, during which she says she has “a grand vision for the world…that computational thinking will be a fundamental skill that everyone will be using by the middle of the twenty-first century…as fundamental as reading, writing and arithmetic.”
And here’s another video of Wing’s talk at a TEDx (TED spin-off conference) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where Carnegie Mellon University is primarily based.
As Microsoft noted in its press release on Wing’s appointment, she’s also a vice chairperson at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the futuristic-oriented division of the Defense Department that developed the prototype of the Internet (ARPANET) back in the late 1960s.
“I’m excited to join Microsoft Research, a world-class research organization in computing and related disciplines, and I appreciate this unique opportunity to lead its international labs,” Wing said in a statement. “Microsoft Research has already had tremendous impact on the field of computing, on Microsoft’s products and services, and on society, with potential yet to be unleashed. I am looking forward to working with the extraordinary talent at Microsoft Research, and I am especially honored to serve the international labs, each with its own character, strengths and distinct cultures.”
Indeed, to Wing’s point about Microsoft’s impact, Microsoft Research has recently been in the news for its work on such projects as software that turns its Kinect motion-controller into a 3D objects scanner and for an impressive realtime speech translator capable of automatically and rapidly converting English into Mandarin.