Microsoft on Wednesday announced a major program to invest in research centers in Europe, touching on traditional scientific research as well as aspects of computer science.
The EuroScience Initiative, officially launched with Microsoft chairman Bill Gates keynote to more than 500 government leaders and public officials in Prague, Czech Republic, builds on Microsofts existing European investments via its Microsoft Research unit. While existing centers such as Microsoft Research Cambridge and the European Microsoft Innovation Center are squarely focused on software research, the EuroScience program aims to bring computing together with hard-science areas in which Microsoft doesnt necessarily have any expertise.
“By bringing computing technology and the sciences closer together, the EuroScience initiative will accelerate progress in key areas such as the life and physical sciences, engineering and agriculture,” Gates said in a statement.
As part of this, Microsoft is to invest in Centers of Excellence, or CoEs, tied to key research institutions across Europe, beginning with a new center for Computational and Systems Biology in Trento, Italy, created as a joint venture between Microsoft, the Italian local and central governments, and the University of Trento. The center will develop computational tools to be used by biologists, ultimately to help them understand the origins of disease and to develop better vaccines and therapies.
The Trento CoE could also boost traditional industries such as agriculture and agriscience, said Letizia Moratti, Italian minister of education. Other CoEs are to be established later this year, with discussions taking place in France, Germany and the United Kingdom.
Besides new tools, EuroScience aims to address fundamental problems in computer science by looking at the natural world, chemistry and biology, and to look at applications for “ambient intelligence.” Ambient intelligence refers to the growing pervasiveness of sensors, wireless networks and embedded computing.
Microsoft is creating CoEs and also initiating programs along these lines at several universities, including the University College London, Leipzig University, the University of Southampton, the Technical University of Berlin and the University of York. It is planning to extend an existing collaboration with INRIA, the French National Institute for Research in Computer Science, Gates said.
EuroScience includes a series of scholarships, scientific workshops and a European Scientist of the Year Award to boost European scientific research. EuroScience is designed to support the Lisbon Agenda, a 2000 agreement by European Union heads of state to make the EU “the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-driven economy by 2010.”
The timing of the announcement, coming as Microsoft negotiates with the European Commission over how it will implement antitrust remedies, is just a coincidence, said a Microsoft spokesperson. The company has been working toward the EuroScience announcement for over a year, she said.
Carlo Piana, a lawyer who represents Microsoft for the Free Software Foundation Europe, said it is important to separate Microsofts monopolistic practices from its other activities. “The sanctions … are not against Microsoft as such, but against its abusive competition attitude,” he said.