Microsoft President Steven A. Ballmer '77 returned to Harvard yesterday for the dedication of Maxwell Dworkin, the new computer science and electrical engineering building he helped finance.
In a keynote speech to an audience of students, faculty and alumni that packed Science Center B, Ballmer mixed reminiscences about his days at Harvard with forecasts about the future of the computer industry. The day's ceremonies also included a panel discussion on the future of computer science, a reception and dinner in the recently completed Maxwell Dworkin and a student luncheon with Ballmer.
Ballmer and William H. Gates III, Class of 1977, donated $25 million in 1996, for the construction of the building as well as to endow a new professorship. The facility is named for
Ballmer and Gates' mothers.
In his speech, Ballmer told the audience that most of the changes that computers will bring about have not yet occurred.
"We're really just at the beginning of the Internet revolution," he said.
Ballmer predicted that advances in technology will give users greater freedom and flexibility.
For example, Ballmer explained, currently there is no way to avoid the commercials and pauses that stretch out a televised baseball game.
But Ballmer demonstrated a new Microsoft media player that can 'intelligently' cut stops in the action. He showed how, with the click of a mouse, the program could quickly edit a Seattle Mariners game from nearly two hours to just over five minutes.
Ballmer said this type of technology would not only be useful for entertainment purposes.
Remembering his own years at Harvard--and the classes he cut--Ballmer guessed that students would be much more likely to watch videos of skipped classes if this kind of convenient time-saving technique were at their fingertips.
Earlier in the speech, Ballmer brought the audience back with him to his first year, displaying a slide of his and Gates' facebook pictures side by side.
Since that time, Ballmer has maintained his connection to Harvard, serving first on the Board of Overseers and now as co-chair of the Class of 1977.
Ballmer said that both he and Gates are now glad to have a part in shaping the future of computer science at Harvard.
"We desire to see Harvard be the greatest place in the world for computer science," Ballmer said.
Last week, Microsoft and MIT announced a $25 million five-year plan to work together to develop computer science technology for universities, which caused some to question why Ballmer didn't direct the money to his alma mater.
But Ballmer said he remains committed to aiding the development of the Harvard computer science program. He told The Crimson that he expects that Microsoft and Harvard will collaborate on computer science research in the future, though he does not foresee any immediate joint projects.
"I hope the building and the new Faculty help make Harvard as much a center of computer science as MIT is a center of computer science," Ballmer said.
The building that Ballmer and Gates made possible, Maxwell Dworkin, will allow undergraduates, graduates and Faculty in the Division of Engineering and Applied Sciences to work together under the same roof for the first time. Small lecture halls with microphones at every seat will facilitate interaction between students and Faculty.
Before his speech, Ballmer ate lunch with Harvard undergraduates. In addition to speaking about his own life and the Microsoft Corp., Ballmer questioned students about Microsoft's image and how it could be improved among young people.
Zubin M. Teja '02, a computer science concentrator who attended the luncheon, said he was very interested to hear what Ballmer had to say about the future of computer science. He also said he was impressed by how easy it was to speak with Ballmer.
"Because he was a Harvard undergraduate himself, he was able to relate well to us--there was a lot of common ground," Teja said.