Feature: Fast and Flexible – Microsoft and Trinity College

Tony Hey, corporate vice president of Microsoft Research

Tony Hey, corporate vice president of Microsoft Research

Tony Hey, the man spearheading Microsoft’s partnership with Trinity College Dublin, is “genuinely excited” by its potential despite admitting he had previously ignored the potential for innovation in the humanities.

Hey, who is corporate vice president at the external research wing of Microsoft Research, says that he has since seen the folly in this and understands just how important the area of study is to the research work Microsoft and others are doing at present.

“My work in the past has generally been around science which lends itself more to cutting-edge technology and new research techniques,” says Hey while in Trinity College for the announcement on the partnership. “There is so much content there, though, and making all of it more accessible is very exciting.”

With that increased accessibility comes the potential for greater collaboration according to Trinity College and Microsoft. However, Hey argues that the infrastructure now being created through the agreement has potential far beyond academia, stretching into the wider world of education and the country’s economy.

“If you look at the example of the Book of Kells , people going to see it only ever get to see two pages at any one time,” he says. “If it was all digitised and available to view at any time, anywhere it would have an enormous benefit to Ireland’s culture and would vastly increase the interest in Ireland globally.

“Something like that would also be a valuable educational tool and I think the case needs to be made to the Irish Government that this could be very useful.”

However, Hey makes no pretence about Microsoft’s motivation in striking the deal with Trinity, adding that it was going to benefit both sides.

“It would be dishonest to say that this was entirely altruistic – of course it wasn’t,” he says. “This partnership will be very useful to our research department and what comes out of it could eventually become features and services in future products.”

Hey adds that his preferred approach is to build something tangible as quickly as possible, growing it from there. The plan is that as the software and infrastructure develops what works can be built on and what does not can be discarded.

The infrastructure is also being built heavily on open source code, something that Microsoft has begun to embrace after years of resistance. By making itself faster and more flexible – and by establishing partnerships like this one early – it helps Microsoft stay ahead of its competition.

Microsoft abandoned its short-lived plans to digitise books en-mass in the middle of 2008 opting instead to work with institutes on a one-by-one basis.

Another big benefit for us is that it cuts down on the kind of space we need to stock the physical copies in the first place.

Click here to read more about the moves universities are making to digitised libraries.

This article was published in the November edition of the Innovation supplement in The Irish Times.

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