The chart above illustrates the size of Microsoft’s online losses.
Speaking at the Churchill Club last night, CEO Steve Ballmer stood by his commitment to investing billions in Microsoft’s search engine, Bing.
He was asked, what is the least understood aspect of Microsoft?
His answer was that people don’t get Microsoft’s commitment to “machine learning,” “what we’ve done in Bing.” He believes big data is something that will be valuable across many businesses and many technology products.
Here’s the meat of his comment. It’s worth reading the whole thing. We bolded a few sections.
“I can go through business by business, I can go through technology product by technology product, the advantages of using these kind of machine learning techniques I think are huge.
We’ve made a tremendous investment, something well noted on Wall Street, they say, ‘hey you know, you haven’t made any money in this Bing thing.’ And I say, ‘Wow, am I glad we’ve made that investment.’
And it’s not easy to make. It’s not easy to make in terms of talent, it’s not easy to make in terms of infrastructure, there are big data companies coming on, but it’s kind of a bootstrap problem, you don’t have big data until you have it. That sounds kind of silly, but indexing the web is kind of the biggest big data problem, or mapping the earth is the biggest big data problem, or mapping language and the way people use it to command and control systems.
These are big data/machine learning and we’ve made a big investment and it’s one I’m probably far more excited about than people would think.”
We still think Ballmer has spent much too much on his Bing investment, but he does have a point about big data being useful. Just look at what’s happened to Apple in the last two years. Its two major product releases — Siri and Maps — came up short of expectations. A big reason is Apple’s lack of experience with big data, and the web.
Here’s the full clip of Ballmer talking. He also gives an anecdote about a Vegas casino operator who is doing machine learning, in a way.
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