Category Archives: Microsoft News

Microsoft News

Schlumberger refines global teamwork with Microsoft 365 – Microsoft 365 Blog

The Schlumberger logo.

Profile picture of Ron Markezich.With more than 80 years of pioneering innovation in reservoir characterization, drilling, production, and exploration, Schlumberger is the leading provider of upstream products and services in the oil and gas industry. It’s a highly collaborative business, both internally, with more than 100,000 employees working in 85 countries, and externally, with the world’s leading global oil and gas customers depending on Schlumberger products and services. Moving data and expensive resources through a complex network of delivery systems calls for reliable, real-time collaboration and communication for all stakeholders. That’s one reason why standardizing on Microsoft 365 is a major step forward in the company’s strategy to harness the cloud and drive efficient customer service.

Recently, Schlumberger’s VP of Information Technology Sebastien Lehnherr had this to say about driving teamwork and productivity on a global scale:

“Operational efficiency and agility are requirements in a highly regulated service industry striving for performance and service quality. We use Microsoft 365 as a core element of our digital strategy—Microsoft Teams, Enterprise Mobility + Security, Power BI, and Windows 10 empower our employees globally with the intuitive, feature-rich tools that help them collaborate more efficiently and be more productive working in the office or while on the road.”

With highly secure, collaborative cloud apps at their fingertips, Schlumberger employees working in the field and at head offices in Paris, Houston, London, and The Hague are empowered by agile digital connections that accelerate service delivery and keep customers’ products moving to market. Unimpeded communication helps connect the big-picture expertise from Schlumberger’s leadership centers with local experience at production sites, adding value to customer relationships. We’re also excited to see how Schlumberger’s global Windows 10 deployment will add value to its Microsoft cloud business productivity platform.

Inside Xbox One X Enhanced: Shadow of the Tomb Raider – Xbox Wire

Many of gaming’s most compelling stories come from those who’ve helped to create our favorite Xbox One games. In our Inside Xbox One X Enhanced series, these creators will share the behind-the-scenes accounts of the work involved in enhancing these epic games for Xbox One X, how they’ve helped chart the course of the world’s most powerful console, and what that means for the future of gaming. Today, we’ll be chatting with Eidos-Montreal Programming Director Frédéric Robichaud on the highly anticipated Shadow of the Tomb Raider which sees Lara Croft’s defining moment as she becomes the Tomb Raider.

What specifically is your development team doing to enhance Shadow of the Tomb Raider for Xbox One X?

To ensure that Shadow of the Tomb Raider looked crisp and amazingly polished on Xbox One X, we have worked incredibly hard to fully support HDR mode. We’ve revamped the entire pipeline to be HDR from the get go: realistic lights intensity calibration, HDR textures and global illumination energy conservation.

In Shadow of the Tomb Raider, we offer two modes for players: High Resolution and High Framerate mode. With the GPU power of the Xbox One X, we were able to get 4K at a constant 30 FPS and with the CPU boost, we are targeting 60 FPS with full HD (1080p) in High Framerate mode.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider Screenshot

We’ve been able to improve the quality of certain algorithms on the Xbox One X like stochastic screen-space reflections and atmospheric effects. With the extra memory, we have increased the shadow maps and texture resolution to enhance the visual quality.

Audio wise, we are fully supporting Dolby Atmos to create real 3D audio immersion.

How do these enhancements impact the gaming experience, and why did your development team choose to focus on these enhancement areas?

The recent Tomb Raider games are known for their high quality graphics and Shadow of the Tomb Raider, as the final entry in the origin trilogy, pushes the visual boundaries more than ever before. Supporting 4K was mandatory for us. Players that do not own a 4K TV will still see the visual improvements, mostly with less aliasing and more details in the image.

If the player chooses the High Framerate mode, they will enjoy the fluidity and reactivity of the controls in a seamless gameplay experience.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider Screenshot

The audio immersion is perfect with Dolby Atmos, especially in the jungle areas which are dense with wildlife like the locusts below and birds above. Spatial audio is best experienced with a home theater system; however, all players will still hear those effects and an overall increase in audio fidelity.

How do you expect fans of Shadow of the Tomb Raider will respond to playing it on Xbox One X with these enhancements?

Those playing Shadow of the Tomb Raider on the Xbox One X will be blown away by the visual quality in High Resolution mode or the fluidity if they choose the High Framerate mode. Players will not want to go back to the previous generation of consoles!

What enhancement were you most excited about to explore leveraging for Shadow of the Tomb Raider on Xbox One X?

Without a doubt, High Framerate mode. Maximizing the CPU power to target 60 FPS with a huge, living crowd like in the Cozumel café or Paititi was an interesting challenge. A lot of optimization to our engine was done to achieve these stunning results.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider Screenshot

What does 4K and HDR mean for your game, games in the future and development at your studio?

We completely revamped our pipeline to integrate HDR from the beginning of production. Shadow of the Tomb Raider looks more real and better than ever before because of 4K and HDR. Better resolution, less aliasing, more intensity and more nuance.  We hope that players are blown away by the visual fidelity of the most recent edition to the Tomb Raider franchise.

It is only the beginning; 4k and HDR will become standard to all the games, especially when all developers begin to follow a common HDR standard.

Thanks to Frédéric for taking the time to chat with us about Shadow of the Tomb Raider, which releases on September 14. We’ll bring you more interviews with more developers in the future, as well as more on Shadow of the Tomb Raider, so stay tuned to Xbox Wire!

Here’s what’s new in education apps |

With the new school year fast approaching for the Western Hemisphere, we thought it would be useful to look at some of the most recently released apps on the Microsoft Store for Education. These apps work seamlessly within the Microsoft Education ecosystem to enable us all to empower every student to achieve more.


Cashtivity is passionately focused on preparing students for success, in college, career and beyond. It’s this focus that drives them every day. They recently released Mindsets Learning – a digital library of inquiry based, real-world lessons for K12 math, science and STEM.

Students collaborate, predict, analyze and apply their math skills to solve a real-world challenge using design thinking and an entrepreneurial mindset. Educators are able to mentor & monitor students using real time data and facilitation tools provided in the app.


Music lessons will never be the same again with Flute Master from Classplash, a company founded by an educator with a passion for creating sustainable digital content for music education.

With Flute Master, students will learn how to play the soprano recorder! It’s easy and a lot of fun! They play a real recorder, and the sound will be recognized through the microphone. Flute Master presents an immersive story, lovely animations and includes 30 original music tracks that gradually teach each note on the recorder.

Besides learning how to play a real instrument, they will improve their music, fine motor skills and make progression in sight-reading by using the sheet music play-along for each track.


In Rhythmic Village you’ll discover the crazy and happy music notes named “Rhythmiacs.”

In this adventure you’ll learn the basics of sheet music reading, play percussion instruments and improve your sense of rhythm. Use your device and start right away in the app.


Shape robotics journey started in 2011 just outside of Copenhagen, at the Technical University of Denmark.

Moises Pacheco and David Johan Christensen, an Associate Professor and Robot Researcher respectively, shared the same vision: to develop a robot system that was extremely easy-to-use, even for younger school pupils. This resulted in the launch of the Fable Robotics System, a modular robot that allows you to build advanced custom robots in seconds.

Fable Blockly is the official programming Windows 10 app that enables Fable to become a walking Fable, a social Fable, Fable as a snake, and even an industrial Fable who can perform tasks such as sort colors.


Many teachers teach using text ,but 65 percent of students learn by visuals. Squigl solves this problem.

Squigl is software that utilizes AI to allow teachers and students the ability to transform their text into animated visual presentations in minutes. A user inputs text into Squigl, and with a couple of clicks, an animated video is produced.

Squigl allows anyone to make animated videos in minutes with ease. A student enters text into Squigl or through Word, and within a couple of clicks an animated video is produced. Squigl generates a full package that includes an MP4, sound file, a specially formatted PDF document, and the digital assets used in the project for consumption in other systems.


Vidigami is a collaborative, private and secure media management platform designed exclusively for schools. It is a cloud-based, members-only application available on web and mobile that allows staff, faculty, families, and students to crowdsource authentic school memories.

Photos and videos of everything from sporting events and field trips to class projects and artwork can be easily captured, centralized in on place, intelligently organized, and finally, privately shared with other members of the community, so they can be easily archived and transformed into incredible content for engagement, education and more.

To learn more about these solutions and thousands of other apps that could support you, please visit the Microsoft Store for Education.

The Microsoft AI Idea Challenge – Breakthrough Ideas Wanted!

This post is authored by Tara Shankar Jana, Senior Technical Product Marketing Manager at Microsoft.

All of us have creative ideas – ideas that can improve our lives and the lives of thousands, perhaps even millions of others. But how often do we act on turning those ideas into a reality? Most of the time, we do not believe in our ideas strongly enough to pursue them. Other times we feel like we lack a platform to build out our idea or showcase it. Most good ideas don’t go beyond those initial creative thoughts in our head.

If you’re a professional working in the field of artificial intelligence (AI), or an aspiring AI developer or just someone who is passionate about AI and machine learning, Microsoft is excited to offer you an opportunity to transform your most creative ideas into reality. Join the Microsoft AI Idea Challenge Contest today for a chance to win exciting prizes and get your project featured in Microsoft’s AI.lab showcase. Check out the rules, terms and conditions of the contest and then dive right in!

The Challenge

The Microsoft AI Idea Challenge is seeking breakthrough AI solutions from developers, data scientists, professionals and students, and preferably developed on the Microsoft AI platform and services. The challenge gives you a platform to freely share AI models and applications, so they are reusable and easily accessible. The ideas you submit are judged on the parameters shown in the figure below – essentially half the weight is for the originality of your idea, 20% for the feasibility of your solution, and 30% for the complexity (i.e. level of sophistication) of your implementation.

The Microsoft AI Challenge is accepting submissions between now and October 12th, 2018.

To qualify for the competition, individuals or teams are required to submit a working AI model, test dataset, a demo app and a demo video that can be a maximum of three minutes long. We encourage you to register early and upload your projects soon, so that you can begin to plan and build out your solution and turn in the rest of your materials on time. We are looking for solutions across the whole spectrum of use cases – to be inspired, take a look at some of the examples at AI.lab.


The winners of the first three places in the contest will respectively receive a Surface Book 2, a DJI Drone, and an Xbox One X.

We hope that’s motivation to get you started today – good luck!


Back to School tips and tactics in August’s #MSFTEduChat TweetMeet |

It’s a big planet, so we don’t all go back to school at the same time. Sooner or later, though, students and educators inevitably head back to the classroom – hopefully with maximum momentum intact. The #MSFTEduChat TweetMeet of August is a great way to broaden your horizon to encompass different ideas, approaches and opinions about getting Back To School and hitting the ground running.

Our next #MSFTEduChat TweetMeet, starting on Tuesday, August 21, at 10:00 a.m. PDT (check your time zone here), will focus on good tips, tactics and ideas for heading Back to School with aplomb. (Sounds great, but what’s a TweetMeet?)

We’re still taking a global approach to the TweetMeet by offering 13 simultaneous language tracks for the event. This month we’re adding עִברִית (Hebrew), norsk (Norwegian), svenska (Swedish), Nederlands (Dutch) and Deutsch (German).

For each language track, we have one or more hosts to post the translated questions and respond to educators. We’re once again most grateful to all current and former hosts who are collaborating closely to provide this service.

The #TweetMeetXX hashtags for non-English languages are to be used together with #MSFTEduChat so that everyone can find the conversations back in their own language. For example: French-speaking people use the combination #TweetMeetFR #MSFTEduChat. English-speaking educators may all use #MSFTEduChat on its own.

Our #MSFTEduChat TweetMeet with Back to School tips is on Tuesday, August 21 from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. PDT. Everyone is welcome to join. #BackToSchool Click To Tweet

Why join the #MSFTEduChat TweetMeets?

TweetMeets are monthly recurring Twitter conversations about themes relevant to educators, facilitated by Microsoft Education. The purpose of these events is to help professionals in education to learn from each other and inspire their students while they are preparing for their future. The TweetMeets also nurture personal learning networks among educators from across the globe.

Our hosts often use Flipgrid to share their excitement and thoughts around TweetMeet topics, and you’re welcome to participate above!

When and how can I join?

Join us Tuesday, August 21 from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. PDT on Twitter using the hashtags#MSFTEduChat, #BackToSchool and #MicrosoftEDU (which you can always use to stay in touch with us). To find the event time for your specific location, use this time zone announcer.

How can I best prepare?

To prepare for the #MSFTEduChat TweetMeet, have a look at the questions we crafted this time.

You can also revisit our blog post, Back to School season gets easier with live tips and hands-on help from #MicrosoftEDU, and check out all event sessions and relevant resources from the Microsoft Educator Community:

You can also catch up on the latest Back to School features for:

TweetMeet Questions

Time # Question
10:00 Ice Breaker What excites you about going back to school? Share an image, GIF or story.
10:06 1 What tools and strategies do you use to welcome new students?
10:15 2 What is your main focus this coming schoolyear?
10:24 3 How will you improve communication and collaboration?
10:33 4 How can technology help you meet your goals for this schoolyear?
10:42 5 What’s your best tip to create an inclusive classroom?
10:51 6 What new idea are you eager to try in the new schoolyear?
11:00 Takeaway Question Who or what has inspired you in today’s TweetMeet?

Hosts and coaches

Matching this month’s topic, we have invited 20 global educators to be our hosts. They can’t wait to engage with you and share ideas about Back to School. Check out their profiles and projects, follow them all on Twitter, and check their tweets in this Twitter list.

  • Can Van Truong @CanVanTruong (MIE Expert, Thach Xa junior high school teacher – Passionate about helping teachers use technology to empower students – Thach That, Ha Noi, Viet Nam)
  • Chandni Agarwal @chandni1910 (Head IT Department & teaching Computer Science Grade 12, National ICT Award Winner 2016, MIELA Winner, MIE Expert, Master Trainer, Cyber Security Resource Person, Love to implement Microsoft tools for Power to Empower – Delhi, India)
  • Elsabé Hart @HartElsabe (Former Teacher Ambassador and Microsoft Learning Consultant, Microsoft Certified Educator, MIE Master Trainer and MIE Expert. Minecraft Certified Trainer and an advocate for Game-Based Learning and 21st Century Learning Design – Cape Town, South Africa)
  • Erin Holland @erinjurisich (Digital Learning and Teaching Facilitator (DLTF) for Onslow County; passionate about helping teachers utilize technology that empowers students, both in the classroom and beyond! – North Carolina, USA)
  • Esam Baboukhan @soslearning (e-learning manager, lifelong learner and passionate advocate of meaningful, relevant and engaging teaching, learning and assessment – augmented through the use of accessible Edtech, MIE Expert – United Kingdom)
  • Ferdinand Stipberger @stipberger (MIE Expert, Middle School Teacher up to 10th grade – helping teachers and students to redefine their teaching and learning by using technology. I love all things the Microsoft Education world is about. – Neunburg v. Wald, Bavaria, Germany)
  • Jeni Long @jlo731 (Instructional Technologist with EMSISD. Passionate about technology integration and making learning accessible and fun for all! MIE Expert, MIE Trainer, & Flipgrid Ambassadors – Ft Worth, Texas, USA)
  • Kim Aarberg @KAarberg Teacher (I teach a global classroom. I’m a Flipgrid ambassador, Soundtrap expert and Google-certified teacher. Students learn in a collaborative environment. – Norway)
  • Kristina Johansson @johfam (Teacher. Interested in how technology can help us learn together. We don’t know what the future will be like! MIE Expert – Sweden)
  • Lucian Duma @lucianecurator (Teacher for SEN students, MIE Expert, MIE Trainer, Social Media Manager and Curator – Romania)
  • Luis Oliveira @loliveira55 (ELL HS Teacher, Tech Coach and Director, MIE Expert, MIE Trainer, Flipgrid Ambassador, Certified Newsela, Flipgrid, and Formative Educator. Passionate about providing a voice to all – Middletown, RI USA)
  • Manuela Valentim @fatela1971 (Interested in PBL and Digital Citizenship. Coordinator of UNESCO’s Projects, MIE Expert, Skype Master Teacher and Teach SDG’s Ambassador – Portugal)
  • Michel Girard @theMoat (Computer science teacher at DIIAGE, Office 365 administrator, MIE Expert, love sharing teaching practices and empowering students and teachers in their learning paths – Dijon, France)
  • Natalija Budinski @NatalijaNovta (Math teacher and External Adviser of Serbian Ministry of Education, My fields of interest are STEM disciplines, teaching math through origami and other art disciplines. MIE Expert, Skype Master Teacher, Scientix ambassador, blogger – Serbia)
  • Noa Lahav @supervxn (Working for the Innovative Tech Unit in the Ministry of Education, MIE Expert, Minecraft Global Mentor and Flipgrid Ambassador – Israel)
  • Rhea Flohr @RheaFlohr (Teacher in secondary school, EdTech Specialist, OneNote-lover. I am curious and I love to share my classroom experiences always wondering: could technology enhance learning? otherwise don’t use it! – Eindhoven, The Netherlands)
  • Sachelle Dorencamp @SachelleD (Digital Learning and Teaching Facilitator (DLTF) for Onslow County Schools. I am a fangirl of all things Microsoft Education and love helping teachers positively impact the lives of students. I am a Microsoft Innovative Educator and Microsoft Master Trainer – North Carolina, USA)
  • Sallee Clark @SalleeClark (Instructional Technologist with Eagle Mountain Saginaw ISD. As an MIE Expert & MIE Trainer, I am passionate about making learning accessible and fun for all! – Fort Worth, Texas, USA)
  • Thuy Nguyen @NguynTh10903062 (English teacher from Minh Dam High School, BRVT; MIE Expert; MIE Trainer; SDGs Ambassador. I love inspiring teachers and engaging students with technology in order to transform education together with the global educator community – Vietnam)
  • Vicent Ferrís @vicent_fd86 (Technology and Mathematics teacher in Maristas Algemesi. A lover of new technologies in education. I love innovating with my students. Microsoft Innovative Expert and MIE Trainer. Lover of Microsoft Teams – Valencia, Spain)

Finally, we’re introducing Francisco Texeira (@fcotexeira) to help us coordinate the TweetMeet. He is a former TweetMeet host himself and has already been assisting hosts in their preparations for the event. Francisco is a multilingual high school teacher and IT coordinator based in Spain and very passionate about professional development. Thanks for joining us!

What are #MSFTEduChat TweetMeets?

Every month Microsoft Education organizes social events on Twitter targeted at educators globally. The hashtag we use is #MSFTEduChat. A team of topic specialists and international MIE Expert teachers prepare and host these TweetMeets together. Our team of educator hosts first crafts several questions around a certain topic. Then, before the event, they share these questions on social media. Combined with a range of resources, a blog post and background information about the events, this allows all participants to prepare themselves to the full. Afterwards we make an archive available of the most notable tweets and resources shared during the event.

The #MSFTduChat event time is 10:00 a.m. PT. If this time isn’t convenient for you, please follow your local channel or even consider hosting your own #MSFTEduChat in your country and language. Please connect with TweetMeet organizer Marjolein Hoekstra @OneNoteC on Twitter for more info on hosting in your language and time that works best for the educators and MIE Experts in your country.

Microsoft, Amazon, Google, IBM, Oracle, and Salesforce issue joint statement for healthcare interoperability

Photo credit: ITI
Pictured, L-R: Dean Garfield (ITI) – Alec Chalmers (Amazon) – Mark Dudman (IBM) – Peter Lee (Microsoft) –– Greg Moore (Google)

Interoperability is an overlapping set of technical and policy challenges, from data access to common data models to information exchange to workflow integration – and these challenges often pose a barrier to healthcare innovation. Microsoft has been engaged for many years on developing best practices for interoperability across industries. Today, as health IT community leaders get together at the CMS Blue Button 2.0 Developer Conference here in Washington, DC, we’re pleased to announce that Microsoft has joined with Amazon, Google, IBM, Oracle, and Salesforce in support of healthcare interoperability with the following statement:

We are jointly committed to removing barriers for the adoption of technologies for healthcare interoperability, particularly those that are enabled through the cloud and AI. We share the common quest to unlock the potential in healthcare data, to deliver better outcomes at lower costs.

In engaging in this dialogue, we start from these foundational assumptions:

  • The frictionless exchange of healthcare data, with appropriate permissions and controls, will lead to better patient care, higher user satisfaction, and lower costs across the entire health ecosystem. 
  • Healthcare data interoperability, to be successful, must account for the needs of all global stakeholders, empowering patients, healthcare providers, payers, app developers, device and pharmaceuticals manufacturers, employers, researchers, citizen scientists, and many others who will develop, test, refine, and scale the deployment of new tools and services. 
  • Open standards, open specifications, and open source tools are essential to facilitate frictionless data exchange. This requires a variety of technical strategies and ongoing collaboration for the industry to converge and embrace emerging standards for healthcare data interoperability, such as HL7 FHIR and the Argonaut Project. 
  • We understand that achieving frictionless health data exchange is an ongoing process, and we commit to actively engaging among open source and open standards communities for the development of healthcare standards, and conformity assessment to foster agility to account for the accelerated pace of innovation. 

Together, we believe that a robust industry dialogue about healthcare interoperability needs will advance this cause, and hence are pleased to issue this joint statement.

While I’m new here at Microsoft, I’ve been focused over the past decade on lowering the barriers to innovation in healthcare, working closely with open source and standards development communities. I’m happy that my first blog post here at Microsoft aligns so well with my charter to collaborate on open cloud architecture with the healthcare community.

Electronic Health Records (EHRs) are approaching universal adoption in US hospitals and ambulatory practices, thanks in part to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Electronic Health Record (EHR) Incentive Programs. The 21st Century Cures Act will make digital health data even more accessible with the call for open APIs.

In the context of US healthcare, many health record systems have focused on consistent representation for a key set of data elements defined by the Meaningful Use Common Clinical Data Set. As support for this common data set grows, it becomes easier to plug new tools into clinical workflows, analyze clinical histories, collect new data, and coordinate care. Many of these technical capabilities have been available within small, tight-knit health systems for a long time – but developing these capabilities has required complex, custom engineering and ongoing maintenance and support. Driving toward open architecture makes adoption faster, easier and cheaper.

As a medical student, I used to practice what I called “rogue interop” – connecting to services where I could, and cobbling together the data platform I wanted. It all worked, but it was a nightmare to maintain. Later when I joined the research faculty at Boston Children’s Hospital and started work on the SMART Health IT Platform, we wanted to build a robust platform to isolate app developers from the underlying details of an EHR system, so we started by designing new, open APIs from scratch and bridging to the underlying vendor system.

This work caught the attention of Health Level Seven (HL7), the healthcare standards development organization responsible for several generations of health data standards. When HL7 convened a “Fresh Look Task Force” to invite perspectives about newer, API-based approaches to data exchange, I was pleased to participate, sharing my experience from SMART.

This task force (among many influences) ultimately inspired the creation of Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) – a more open, agile approach to the development of healthcare standards. I got involved with the FHIR community early when I wrote the first open-source FHIR server. Five years later, it’s been inspiring to see so many vendors, including Microsoft, supporting the emerging FHIR standard.

I joined Microsoft because it is among the largest contributors to open standards and open source. We actively contribute innovative technology to standards efforts in many industries, and we implement thousands of standards in our products that are formulated by a broad diversity of standards bodies. Just over the past year we’ve seen deep commitments to cross-cloud consumer data portability through the Data Transfer Project, an interoperable ecosystem for AI models through the Open Neural Network Exchange (ONNX), and the world’s leading software development platform through the acquisition of GitHub.

We at Microsoft are taking a collaborative approach to building open tools that will help the healthcare community, including cloud-hosted APIs and services for AI and machine learning. Microsoft understands that true interoperability in healthcare requires end-to end solutions, rather than independent pieces, which may not work together.

Most recently, we’ve added support for FHIR to the Dynamics Business Application Platform through the Dynamics 365 Healthcare Accelerator, and developed an open source Azure Security and Compliance Blueprint for Health Data and AI for deploying a FHIR-enabled, HIPAA/HITRUST in Azure. These solutions are results of Microsoft teams working closely with our partners to ensure all components of our product portfolio work together to serve the unique needs of healthcare scenarios.

Transforming healthcare means working together with organizations across the ecosystem. Today’s joint interoperability statement reflects the feedback from our healthcare customers and partners, and together we will lay a technical foundation to support value-based care. We expect that the assumptions from our joint statement will continue to evolve and be refined based on this open dialog with the industry.

Please join the conversation. You can find me on Twitter @JoshCMandel. If you want to participate, comment or learn more about FHIR, you can reach our FHIR Community chat at

Rohit Bhargava | Microsoft Story Labs

Mark Mobleywritten by

Mark Mobley

A ’near-futurist‘ scours data for hidden clues about how the world works

How does self-described “Trend Curator” Rohit Bhargava navigate the future? By shredding magazines and planting sticky notes. Throughout each travel-packed year of international speaking and teaching, he collects untold piles of periodicals, then skims, tears and screens their editorial and advertising content for clues to what’s now, what’s new and — most of all — what’s going to be influential in the years to come.

“The trends,” Bhargava said, “really explain how the world works.”

Using what he calls his “haystack method,” Bhargava sorts and sifts and shifts the material he and his team have found. Gradually, connections are made, combinations arise, synchronicities emerge and trends appear. He compiles what he gleans in an annual series of books called “Non Obvious: How To Predict Trends And Win The Future,” which have been published in more than a dozen languages. These have schooled more than a million businesspeople and interested civilians about the cultural currents, jet streams and eddies that shape our lives.

Rohit reading a magazine in front of post-it notes.

“You’ve got to look somewhere other than where everyone else is looking,” said Bhargava at his airy home, where visitors are welcomed by photo collages of his two young sons, in a leafy suburb of Washington, D.C. “I tend to pick up a lot of stuff about things I otherwise would never have picked up because the media here are so U.S.-centric.”

His omnivorous media diet includes everything from legacy magazines like The Atlantic and Variety to city magazines (Washingtonian), alumni magazines (Emory magazine), specialty publications (USA Philatelic, Adweek), foreign in-flight magazines and periodicals definitely not published with him in mind (Teen Vogue, Modern Farmer).

The irony of a “near-futurist” relying so heavily on paper in the digital age is not lost on him.

The irony of a ‘near-futurist’ relying so heavily on paper in the digital age is not lost on him.

“I think that people are more surprised about that than I am,” Bhargava said. “What you see is the paper. What you don’t see is my Feedly account, where I read hundreds of stories each week.” He also relies on conversations at conferences and interviews by his associates. But Bhargava sees a certain tactical advantage in scanning a vast amount of information in physical form.

Bhargava siting at a desk working.

“There’s a reason every James Bond villain looks down on that diorama of the world they’re trying to conquer,” he says. “Hopefully I’m not doing that for evil.”

He smiled and added, “Maybe there is some evil, because I want people to think for themselves and a lot of people don’t want that.”

Bhargava was born in India and came to the United States at 6 months old. After studies at Emory University he moved to Australia in 1998 and began his career at a company called Dimension Data, where he worked for three years before joining the Sydney office of advertising agency Leo Burnett. He returned to the U.S. in 2003 and started working the following year in Washington at Ogilvy. He stayed at that advertising agency until 2012, when he left to start his own consultancy.

Conference and convention planners appreciate the experiences Bhargava himself provides — he speaks at upward of 50 events a year, in addition to consulting with individual companies and teaching smaller groups. “My goal is to give them something they can do, not just inspire them,” he said. He wants to help his audiences find interesting ideas in unexpected places.

While he may appreciate tradition and rigorous methodology, he is anything but a stickler for doing things the way they’ve always been done.

“Our habits are really hard to unlearn,” he told an audience at a recent construction software convention in San Antonio. “The things that we know, the best practices, are really hard to abandon.

If we are going to be innovators, we are going to have to leave some things behind.

“If we are going to be innovators, we are going to have to leave some things behind.”

That’s why one of his five rules for Non-Obvious thinking is to “be fickle” — in other words, keep it moving. The others are “be observant,” “be curious,” “be thoughtful” and “be elegant.” That final command is the guide for the pithy names he likes to assign to the trends he observes.

For example, ”brand stand” is his term for how corporations can make themselves more attractive by backing up their work with socially conscious messaging and actions. (“The job of marketing is not to sell a car, it’s to get people to come into the dealership,” Bhargava explained.) “Predictive protection” is what he calls device makers working to anticipate and defend user vulnerabilities. And “approachable luxury” is the idea that experiences and objects that evoke authenticity and sincerity are now sometimes considered as valuable as high-end products from legacy makers.

In addition to isolating 15 trends for each edition of the Non Obvious books, he also looks back at previous years to reassess the accuracy of his own predictions. Take two from 2013: ”precious print” and “branded inspiration.” While consumers’ fondness for books and print media in general hasn’t waned (Bhargava still gives that trend an A five years later), brands are less willing to stage dramatic one-off events to stand out (today he gives that one a C).

While reevaluating trends, Bhargava realized he could also present them in new ways. He is increasingly using data visualization as a storytelling tool. The Microsoft Power BI platform allowed him to create The Non-Obvious Trend Experience, a periodic table of elements-style dashboard that shows how trends connect across years, industries and areas of interest.

The playful, informative Power BI dashboard is yet another product of an ever-expanding Non-Obvious universe. He’s planning what he calls “the most Non-Obvious thing to do,” a short-form podcast about the past hosted by a futurist. And he and his wife, Chhavi, are co-owners of the publishing imprint Ideapress, which has published 22 books and has another 12 coming soon. His own contribution to the series will be a volume on running a small business.

“I think any of us can be more innovative, more creative,” he told his San Antonio audience. “We just have to give ourselves permission to do it.” He demonstrated that the following morning by leading a workshop of about two dozen executives and staffers. They gathered around tables piled high with magazines.

He opened with a drawing exercise and soon the group was on to Bhargava’s haystack method, scouring the magazines before them for new ideas and things they hadn’t seen before. “I know it’s uncomfortable for some of you, but these magazines are for ripping,” he said. “I want to hear you ripping things out of these magazines. It might be an ad, it might be a story. Feel free to collaborate with your table.”

Curation is the ultimate method for transforming noise into meaning.

Rohit buried in post-it notes.

Two tables pulled the same story about new leashes for walking with children. Another person landed on a makeup line from Crayola. Yet another found an under-the-desk bicycle apparatus that generates power through pedaling. “That’s like next-level LEED certification,” Bhargava joked. “You can power your own building.”

In under an hour, the participants caught a glimpse of what is for Bhargava a year-round process producing mounds of material that gain more meaning with age and comparison.

“Sometimes we have to give ourselves a little bit of time,” he said. He thinks of his haystack method as akin to collecting frequent flyer miles. The ideas are there, mounting over time, ready be cashed in when they’re needed.

Frank Di Lorenzo Jr., a participant from Sacramento, California, called the session “excellent.”

“It got me to think a little more creatively,” Di Lorenzo said. “It’s like taking a step. If I always start on my right foot, this was my left. For an hour, he accomplished a lot.”

“I never saw anybody present this kind of topic before,” added Mary Cunningham of Jupiter, Florida. “It helps you think beyond the obvious. Don’t take things at face value. It allows you to open your mind to other ideas. The way he presents the material, it’s very easy to comprehend and allows the ideas to sink in easily.”

“Curation,” as Bhargava writes in “Non Obvious” and shared in his seminar, “is the ultimate method for transforming noise into meaning.”

Even if the noise is as much the shredding of magazines and riffling of sticky notes as it is the rising, roaring tide of cultural chatter.

Originally published on 8/14/2018 / Photos by Brian Smale / © Microsoft

Inside Xbox is Live from gamescom on Tuesday, August 21 – Xbox Wire

Inside Xbox kicks off one of the world’s largest video game shows with a live broadcast direct from Cologne, Germany on Tuesday, August 21 at 7:30 a.m. PDT/10:30 a.m. EDT on MixerTwitchYouTubeFacebook, and Twitter.

Our gamescom content will include the latest on Forza Horizon 4Sea of Thieves, and State of Decay 2, plus breaking news, exclusive interviews and never-before-seen content for many other games.

Stay tuned @Xbox on Twitter and here on Xbox Wire for the latest Inside Xbox: Live @ gamescom news, and mark August 21 on your calendar so you don’t miss out!

5 takeaways from Brad Smith’s speech at the RISE conference – On the Issues

Tapping AI to solve the world’s big problems

Microsoft has long been known for suites of products, Smith said, and the company is now bringing that approach to a new suite of programs, AI for Good. This initiative’s first program, AI for Earth, was started in 2017 and brings advances in computer science to four environmental areas of focus: biodiversity, water, agriculture and climate change.

Under this program, Microsoft is committing $50 million over five years to provide seed grants to nongovernmental organizations, startups and researchers in more than 20 countries, Smith said. The most promising projects will receive additional funding, and Microsoft will use insights gleaned to build new products and tools. The program is already showing success, Smith said — the use of AI helped farmers in Tasmania improve their yields by 15 percent while reducing environmental runoffs. And in Singapore, AI helped reduce electrical consumption in buildings by almost 15 percent.

“We’re finding that AI, indeed, has the potential to help solve some of the world’s most pressing problems,” he said.

Improving accessibility for people with disabilities

Computers can see and hear. They can tell people what’s going on around them. Those abilities position AI to help the more than one billion people worldwide who have disabilities, Smith said.

“One of the things we’ve learned over the last year is that it’s quite possible that AI can do more for people with disabilities than for any other group on the planet,” he said.

Recognizing that potential, Microsoft in May announced AI for Accessibility, a $25 million, five-year initiative focused on using AI to help people with disabilities. The program provides grants of technology, AI expertise and platform-level services to developers, NGOs, inventors and others working on AI-first solutions to improve accessibility. Microsoft is also investing in its own AI-powered solutions, such as real-time, speech-to-text transcription and predictive text functionality.

Smith pointed to Seeing AI, a free Microsoft app designed for people who are blind or have low vision, as an example of the company’s efforts. This app, which provides narration to describe a person’s surroundings, identify currency and even gauge emotions on people’s faces, has been used over four million times since being launched a year ago.

“AI is absolutely a game-changer for people with disabilities,” Smith said.

Governing AI: a Hippocratic Oath for coders?

For AI to fulfill its potential to serve humanity, it must adhere to “timeless values,” Smith said. But defining those values in a diverse world is challenging, he acknowledged. AI is “posing for computers every ethical question that has existed for people,” he said, and requires an approach that takes into account a broad range of philosophies and ethical traditions.

University students and professors have been seeking to create a Hippocratic Oath for AI, Smith said, similar to the pledge doctors take to uphold specific ethical standards. Smith said a broader global conversation about the ethics of AI is needed, and ultimately, a new legal framework.

“We’re going to have to develop these ethical principles, and we’re going to have to work through the details that sometimes will be difficult,” he said. “Because the ultimate question is whether we want to live in a future of artificial intelligence where only ethical people create ethical AI, or whether we want to live in a world where, at least to some degree, ethical AI is required and assured for all of us.

“There’s only one way to do that, and that is with a new generation of laws.”

Lead image credit:  S3studio/Getty Images

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