Forbes magazine’s Gene Marks may have said it best: “Microsoft announced that it’s going to cure cancer. I’m assuming they’ll do this after my Window 10 upgrade problems get repaired, of course.” And sure, the people who brought you not only the Windows 10 rollout debacle but Windows Vista (along with a “we promise it’s good” advertising campaign for something called Windows Mojave) might not be your go-to guy when you think of making medical history.
But in reality, Microsoft’s involvement in several cancer-curing projects makes complete and total sense. Apart from the already well-established, well-oiled philanthropic machine that is the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Microsoft’s engineers have a long history of tackling problems in unconventional ways that don’t just go with the Silicon Valley status quo.
As outlined by Alan Boyle for Geek Wire, Microsoft is at work on a multi-faceted approach to “reprogramming” the human body like one can debug a computer, only this time the reprogramming is aimed at helping the body attack its own cancer cells. (Stop right there…you’re envisioning that Will Smith zombie movie. Stop it.) They are also working on machine learning to “teach” computers to recognize even the most minute changes in patients’ scans, searching for signs of tumor growth.
But a far more tech-based approach–and arguably one that actually is in Microsoft’s repertoire–is its cloud-based data project that will ideally help doctors around the world find a cancer patient whose profile is nearly identical to one of their patients, then see what worked and didn’t work. Throughout the history of cancer, a lot of the treatment protocols have had to rely on trial and error, and the plan of poisoning the patient’s cancer cells without killing the patient. If this cloud-based opportunity lets doctors see the successes and failures in a database of countless patients, time and harm can be spared.
This is yet another real-world application of the philosophy behind open source software. You developed a program, I know how to make it better, let’s join forces then see who else has an idea to make it better. Microsoft is essentially telling the medical industry, “We have the knowledge, testing labs, equipment, and budget to take a chance on this…tell us what to do with it.” It’s collaboration for the greater good at its finest.