J003-Content-Microsoft-quietly-helps-humanity_SQGoogle really stepped up its social responsibility game with the recent refugee crisis. The search giant set up a website and announced that it would match any donations received. With this exercise, Google managed to raise €10 million globally for migrants and refugees. These funds went to associations such as Doctors without Borders, the International Rescue Committee, Save the Children and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

Google didn’t stop there, and also created “Google Fortunetelling.” A user would type a question in the search bar and Google would magically predict their future. Only when you do try to type a question Google will come up with its own questions such as ‘Where can I find a safe place?’ and ‘Will I ever be reunited with my family? ‘

The website then sends you to another page with information about the refugee crisis:

OF COURSE WE CAN’T PREDICT YOUR FUTURE!

But 60 million refugees ask themselves every day if they have a future at all. So we used a fake Google-site to get your attention because apparently you were interested in your own future. Please take a moment to think of their future.

Google isn’t the only tech giant that wants to give back. Microsoft Research is an amazing organization. Much of what they do is pure research, and much of this is about solving the world’s most vexing problems – disease, nutrition, and climate. This work is very much akin to what the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation does, but the two organizations are entirely separate.

One recent project involves using drones to catch mosquitoes to see if they carry diseases such as malaria. It is interesting to note that Bill Gates has done amazing work to combat this dreaded disease, and has spent a cool (US) $500 million to do so.

The new trap is ultralight, and instead of catching everything that flies by, it focuses just on the mosquitoes, so the natural ecosystem is not disturbed. The trap is dropped off in remote areas and then retrieved by drones.

Like many Microsoft Research projects, Microsoft scientists team up with top academics in the field, in this case biologists.

“That’s a huge leap forward from the current system. Usually, health officials only find out about an outbreak once people are already getting sick. This means things like vaccines and health clinics may not be up and running for as long as a couple of months after a disease has begun spreading,” said James Pipas, a professor of molecular biology at the University of Pittsburgh who also is working on Project Premonition. “If you know they’re coming, you can prepare your response ahead of time,” he said.

Microsoft Research have a list of its projects under their belt, such as using nanotechnology to administer medicines and track moisture to see what areas are plantable, building a worldwide telescope, studying the environment, and so much more.

Science background

The whole process started in 2003 when Bill Gates formed the Science division within Microsoft Research. Microsoft did gain insight into scientific computing trends that has commercial benefit, but much of the work is purely about solving critical global problems.

The organization also has certain freedoms, meaning it can go a bit afield looking at things such as how life and the universe were actually created. Heading the group for over a decade is Stephen Emmott, who shared with me his insights into the group’s goals and top projects.

One lofty goal is to revolutionize both science and computing – by blending them together. “We are at a profoundly important point in time where computer science and computing have the potential to completely revolutionize the sciences,” Emmott said.

Smaller and smaller devices are one form of revolution, even bringing computers down the molecular level and their use is many fold. A machine small enough to fit into a cell can work within the body to detect, and even repair the body. These nano-computers can, for instance, find cancer and then release medicine in proper and fine-tuned amounts. This is the notion of smart drugs.

Larger devices and sensors can do much the same thing for the environment. They could be scattered around desert areas to detect either climate change, or whether the possibility to plant crops exists.

Microsoft is also keenly interested in a deeper understanding of biology, which is the Simulating Biological Systems in the Stochastic Pi Calculus project mission. The project’s endeavors is to analyze how complex biological systems operate.

Microsoft is using the Stochastic approach – referring to the randomness of things – to create richer and more complex biological models that incorporate the randomness built into these systems behaviors.

Microsoft has been working on disease detection, prevention and eradication for years. Emmott has a “project with my team in Cambridge and one of the world’s leading mathematical biologists at Imperial College in London to build a global pandemic modeling system to predict when outbreaks of diseases will occur.”

Microsoft does all this with almost no fanfare, and sometimes it is unfortunate the public doesn’t get to know about such amazing projects.