Back to the Future

Technology doesn’t just happen: It evolves out of a lot of science, math, creativity, ingenuity and late-night hours often fueled by caffeine and Skittles. Much of the technology we use today started out as great ideas years ago (like GPS, for example). To get an inkling of what’s down the road, take a peek at some of the work being done in labs today.

Judging by its website, Google’s Research division looks like it’s well-staffed and consistently busy. To help develop its products, the company employs a huge number or researchers in many specialized fields, including natural language processing, algorithms, data mining, quantum artificial intelligence, machine translation and more. Many of these researchers and scientists write papers on what they’re working on — and some papers you can even read yourself. Some of these treatises  are thick with stiff academic writing style and deep math, but others are more accessible to the novice. Still, if you’re interested, you can find hundreds of papers on the site. Google’s research team also keeps a regular blog highlighting some of their projects, like AlphaGo:

Microsoft has its own research site showcasing the work of the engineers and scientists working on its past and future products in its labs around the world. In addition to information about projects its researchers have developed, the site has a page of free apps and downloads for developers and interested parties to sample. For example, experience ChronoZoom, an app (shown below) that lets you visualize the history of everything right in your browser, or tinker around with Kodu, an icon-based programming language for building PC and Xbox games.

chronozoom

If you want a more down-to-earth practical page of progress, check out Microsoft Garage, the company’s outlet for experimental projects that includes mobile apps, or Google’s Gmail Labs page where you can experiment with other people’s experiments designed to make your Gmail experience easier. (Google once had a whole other Google Labs division for making cool stuff outside of Gmail, but that was discontinued in 2011.)

Some  corporate research sites can be a little self-promoting —  or even outdated as the scientists move on — but you can also find seeds of the future sprinkled around university sites. Check out the MIT Media Lab, Stanford Computer Science Research, Purdue University’s Computer Science department pages, the University of Cambridge Computer Laboratory and the hundreds of other out there.

True, certain projects can be way over the heads of the average user and some may come to nothing. In others, though, you may be able to see around the corner into what’s coming up — or maybe even get a few ideas of your own.

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