The Imagine Cup a 'moral obligation' for Microsoft

The Imagine Cup – a global technology design competition for students aims at solving world problems – is a moral obligation for Microsoft, even if the company receives no tangible benefits from running the competition, according to the corporate vice president of the developer division of Microsoft, S. Somasegar.

The Imagine Cup – a global technology design competition for students aimed at solving world problems – is a moral obligation for Microsoft, even if the company receives no tangible benefits from running the competition, according to the corporate vice president of the developer division of Microsoft, S. Somasegar.

Speaking to Somasegar today, Polygon asked the Microsoft executive why Microsoft pours millions of dollars into the Imagine Cup when so few – if any – of the technologies developed benefit Microsoft financially. Every year for the past ten years Microsoft has provided university students with Microsoft development tool kits and flown finalists around the world to compete internationally – it's a costly venture.

"It's a good question and it's a question we get asked a lot," Somasegar told Polygon. "If you look at the program and how we designed it and what we expect of it, there isn't what I call direct tangible benefits for a company like Microsoft. So the next question is why the hell are we wasting our time on this thing?"

"I think of two things: one is we always believe there is a certain amount of moral obligation that we have as a leading technology provider in the world to give something back. Two is today's students are tomorrow's leaders – these are the guys who are going to be running the world, running governments and countries and enterprizes and creating new things that will fundamentally change the world, so what can we do to make technology easily available, accessible, and more importantly show people what's important with technology?"

"So the next question is why the hell are we wasting our time on this thing?"

The Imagine Cup gives any student from any university in the world free access to their tools and technology to develop their own solutions to world problems. Not all participants are computer science students, with many students from other fields teaming up with each other to create problem solving technologies and games.

Somasegar says that the Imagine Cup has resulted in many technologies that are being further developed to be used as real world solutions. Among the technologies is a mobile phone app a student created to assist the vision impaired navigate the streets of Greece, and a a device using Kinect that allows a surgeon to bring up a patient's profile during surgery using facial expressions.

Somasegar says many of the best projects are a result of the students encountering the problems in their own lives and wanting to find a solution. In a project from 2011, a student from the US with a disability developed a note-taking tool that would allow him to effectively take notes in class – a task which he could not previously accomplish with his disability.

"You could argue that we have a hidden motive, and that is when these students move on and work on new projects they may think about Microsoft technologies ... but we're here to compete on our own merits," Somasegar says.

"Just because someone participated in the Imagine Cup ten years ago doesn't mean they're still going to be excited about Microsoft's technologies. You're going to pick and choose the technology that will help you solve the problems you want to solve, so we know we have to compete on our own merits."

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