TR: How is the Internet changing sociology?
MS [Marc Smith, the senior research sociologist at Microsoft Research]: It's not that you collect data from the world and run it through a computer; it's that most of the world runs through a computer. It's a revolutionary thing. It's a shift from an ephemeral society to archival society. Six or seven billion humans have come and gone over the course of history, and most of them didn't leave a trace. In the not too distant future, it's likely that one to two billion will leave 5 to 10 terabytes, and in those bytes will be the fine-grain details of their lives: the pictures they've taken, the words they've typed, and the people they've been with. This brings up a whole new set of issues. What will privacy look like? How will sovereignty be asserted on this stream of data?
The role of Microsoft Research is to get to the future first, cut our fingers on the rough edges, and figure out how to sand the future down so it's smooth and ready for the rest of us. It's naive to think that they're only going to be positive results.