Google software architect will discuss women's economic future, Gutenberg history during IU visit

Jan. 30, 2014


BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Blaise Agüera y Arcas, the Google software architect behind Bing Maps, Bing Mobile and Photosynth, will give two public talks at Indiana University Bloomington, and neither will be about Web mapping services or creating 3-D digital photography panoramas.

Agüera y Arcas, named one of the top 35 innovators in the world under age 35 by MIT Technology Review and honored as a Distinguished Engineer by Microsoft, will instead speak on two diverse topics: women becoming economically dominant on the planet in coming years and, later in the day, on research showing that the story of Johannes Gutenberg’s early moveable type is much more complicated than previously thought, a discovery Agüera y Arcas made by employing sophisticated computational tools.

Agüera y Arcas’ Feb. 10 visit is being hosted by the School of Informatics and Computing’s Rob Kling Center for Social Informatics, the Lilly Library and the College of Arts and Sciences’ Catapult Center for Digital Humanities & Computational Analysis and Texts.

He will first speak on “The Economic Future of Women” at 2 p.m. in Indiana Memorial Union’s Whittenberger Auditorium.

“With rare exceptions, women have been an economic underclass relative to men for thousands of years -- perhaps since the dawn of agriculture,” Agüera y Arcas wrote in his abstract for the presentation. “While we have made strides in recent history toward equal rights for the genders, it is still the case that the great majority of world capital remains in the hands of men ... that today’s business executives and tech industry are overwhelmingly male-dominated.”

Using U.S. and international labor and wealth data, Agüera y Arcas will argue that a reversal of the status quo will occur over the next few years and that women will become economically dominant.

“Blaise Agüera y Arcas spans a number of fields with remarkable facility, having made major contributions both in the realm of software architecture and in the computationally assisted historical study of typography,” said IU’s William Newman, Distinguished Professor in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science. “His career as a Distinguished Engineer at Microsoft and his recent switch to Google gives him a unique perspective on the role of advanced technology and its impact on the lives of all of us.”

Later in the day, at 5 p.m. in Lilly Library’s Main Gallery, Agüera y Arcas will speak on “Reinventing Gutenberg.” The topic is directly related to research he conducted while an applied math graduate student at Princeton University, working with Paul Needham, a world authority on Gutenberg and the curator of the Scheide Library at Princeton.

Using high-resolution imaging and shape clustering, Agüera y Arcas and Needham applied modern analytic methods to Gutenberg's surviving output, casting doubt on Gutenberg’s role as the father of movable type.

“While he was indeed a great inventor, he did not invent the technologies that have been ascribed to him,” Agüera y Arcas wrote in an abstract for the talk. Instead, “the early evolution of printing technology was much more complex than had been thought.”

Agüera y Arcas went to work for Microsoft in 2006 when the company purchased Seadragon, a data navigation technology he developed and that later led to the creation of Photosynth. That software used digital photographs to create 3-D environments called “synths.” His 2007 TED Talk presentation on Seadragon and Photosynth remains rated as one of TED’s “most jaw-dropping.”

In December 2013, Agüera y Arcas announced he would leave Microsoft to join Google, where he will work on machine learning projects.