As the CEO of Microsoft, Steve Ballmer’s job is to exercise foresight into where the tech industry is headed and make sure his company is moving in the same direction. During a recent Q&A at the Churchill Club, Ballmer talked about the status and future of tech and innovation, and declared that companies either move forward or stagnate and die.

‘Machine Learning’ Investing Key to Microsoft Innovation from Churchill Club on FORA.tv

This is why Microsoft is moving forward aggressively, illustrated by the recent launch of Windows 8 and the coming release of Office 2013. He discussed that the speed of the Internet, along with the consumerization of information technology and technology platforms, has helped Microsoft reinvent itself and its products every five to ten years. Additionally, Ballmer predicted a few trends that will drive the tech sector in the coming years:

  • Machine learning: Along with big data, machine learning, or a computer’s ability to learn without being programmed, has enormous potential for growth, especially because both are critical and challenging to establish data mining. “Companies don’t have big data until they have big data,” said Ballmer. Machine learning faces similar problems. However, once companies have this data, it’s invaluable.
  • New form factors: User-interface innovation is constantly changing across the board with electronic devices. Microsoft’s recent introduction of Surface is a great example of how technology, specifically touch technology, has evolved to meet the needs of a consumer’s lifestyle. This takes us back to the consumerization IT, and the requirement that companies keep reimagining products to meet ever-changing demands from consumers.
  • The cloud: “There is so much opportunity with cloud-based services to innovate,” said Ballmer. Most enterprise technology is still on premise, but the ability to use the cloud for seamless anything is a big reason the cloud landed on this list. The cloud is an ongoing point of innovation and there will continue to be breakthroughs in this area for years to come.
  • New application innovation: The opportunity for app developers is huge, especially among business applications, as consumers bring their preferred style of computing into their office environments.

As we’re nearing the end of 2012, these trends are top of mind as we head into the New Year. What trends will be on your radar in 2013? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Nancy Sánchez (@nancysanchez) is an account executive and Jamie Favazza (@JamieFavazza) is an account coordinator with Airfoil, a high-tech PR and marcomm firm with offices in Silicon Valley and Detroit.