Microsoft bets on an AI future with new research group

Microsoft has formed a new artificial intelligence research and development initiative that brings together 5000-plus computer scientists and engineers to realise the tech giant’s AI vision. 

Fronted by Microsoft-alumni Harry Shum, the new division will be tasked with making AI accessible and valuable for ‘every person and organisation’, building on the company’s focus on AI across apps, services and infrastructure.

The news comes hot on the heels of the launch of the Partnership on AI, the cross-industry collaboration between IBM, Microsoft, Google, Facebook and Amazon.

The new group will unite existing Microsoft teams including Information Platform, Cortana, Bing and robotics. Its scope will include all AI product engineering and the company is taking a four-pronged approach to the initiative.

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Agents: Harness AI to fundamentally change human and computer interaction through agents such as Microsoft’s digital personal assistant Cortana.

Applications: Infuse every application, from the photo app on people’s phones to Skype and Office 365, with intelligence.

Services: Make these same intelligent capabilities that are infused in Microsoft’s apps —cognitive capabilities such as vision and speech, and machine analytics — available to every application developer in the world

Infrastructure: Build the world’s most powerful AI supercomputer with Azure and make it available to anyone, to enable people and organisations to harness its power

“We live in a time when digital technology is transforming our lives, businesses and the world, but also generating an exponential growth in data and information,” said Satya Nadella, CEO, Microsoft. “At Microsoft, we are focused on empowering both people and organisations, by democratising access to intelligence to help solve our most pressing challenges. To do this, we are infusing AI into everything we deliver across our computing platforms and experiences.”

Despite the small misstep with its Twitter bot, Tay, Microsoft is making great progress in the AI space, with Uber announcing this week it is using Microsoft’s Cognitive Services to offer real-time ID Check to ensure passenger safety.

“Microsoft has been working in artificial intelligence since the beginning of Microsoft Research, and yet we’ve only begun to scratch the surface of what’s possible,” said Shum, executive vice president of the Microsoft AI and Research Group. “Today’s move signifies Microsoft’s commitment to deploying intelligent technology and democratising AI in a way that changes our lives and the world around us for the better. We will significantly expand our efforts to empower people and organisations to achieve more with our tools, our software and services, and our powerful, global-scale cloud computing capabilities.”

Microsoft Research has contributed to advancing the state-of-the-art of computing for 25 years, through its groundbreaking basic and applied research that has been shared openly with the industry and academic communities, and with product groups within Microsoft. The organisation has contributed innovative technologies to nearly every product and service Microsoft has produced in this timeframe, from Office and Xbox to HoloLens and Windows. More recently, Shum has expanded the organisation’s mission to include the incubation of disruptive technologies and new businesses.

“My job has been to take Microsoft Research, an amazing asset for the company, and make it even more of a value-creation engine for Microsoft and our industry,” Shum said. “Today’s move to bring research and engineering even closer will accelerate our ability to deliver more personal and intelligent computing experiences to people and organisations worldwide.”

The Microsoft AI and Research Group is hiring for positions in its labs and offices worldwide. Get more information here.

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