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Inside India

High tech is in high gear in this country of a billion people, but the pressures of success are rapidly mounting, too.
People at the registration desk at the conference to mark the first anniversary of Microsoft Research, India -- Photo by Mahesh Bhat/Getty Images

People at the registration desk at the conference to mark the first anniversary of Microsoft Research, India

Photo by Mahesh Bhat/Getty Images

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ACADEMIA

Microsoft Symposium
Bangalore
Thursday, Jan. 12

This is Microsoft's second annual TechVista conference here. Microsoft Research India started the day by unveiling a prototype digital map of India, done in conjunction with India's Department of Science and Technology. Think of it as a combination of Google street maps overlaid with satellite imagery with a Wikipedia aspect that lets users annotate the map, adding details about their favorite restaurants, for example. The goal is to facilitate localization by giving people who speak any of India's 114 languages equal access to the site. The prototype includes four languages and general information about India, plus detailed information about Bangalore. The prototype should be available online in a couple of days.

The symposium had an academic feel, with presentations by researchers from universities like Carnegie Mellon. Topics included the Million Book Digital Library, the Aphasia Project, and the Digital Human Project. My favorite was Sir Tony Hoare, who developed the Quicksort algorithm. His humor and humility won over the audience--not easy for a 72-year-old speaking to a group whose average age is 25.

-- Ron Anderson, Network Computing


IN INDIA, FOR INDIA

Microsoft Research Symposium, Bangalore
Thursday, Jan. 12, noon

It's a sunny day, and Microsoft has rolled out the red carpet for its research director, Rick Rashid; the government's minister of science and technology, Kapil Sibal; and some of India's top academics for the one-year anniversary of the company's India research lab, which employs 30 scientists and may soon double in size. Sibal, a well-known lawyer, walks up the stairs of the Taj Residency hotel and media photographers' cameras flash. Hundreds of attendees pack a hotel ballroom.


P. Anandan, managing director of Microsoft Research India. -- Photo by Mahesh Bhat/Getty Images

P. Anandan, managing director of Microsoft Research India.

Photo by Mahesh Bhat/Getty Images

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While India's tech industry tries to lift the country's economy by churning out intellectual property for export, the message today is self reliance. Sibal and Rashid unveil "Virtual India," an interactive online map that uses government geospatial data. The idea is to help ordinary Indians navigate their vast country. Sibal says the Microsoft-government partnership can help ordinary people get around, locating roads and decent hotels. It's only possible with Indian minds working inside India, he says. "In order to understand the problem, you can't sit in the United States and do it."

India's problems are large. It's a country of a billion people, more than a third of whom are illiterate. Some 700 million live on rural land. Technology has infused the economy with capital, but India's top universities produce just 50 computer science Ph.D's a year. Ravi Venkatesan, chairman of Microsoft India, takes the stage. He calls India "an IT superpower that has 300 million illiterate people." India innovates for export, he says. But to assert itself on the world stage for the first time in three centuries, his countrymen must do more. "It's high time we started innovating in India and for India."

-- Aaron Ricadela