How serious is Microsoft about AI? Serious enough to form a major new Microsoft AI and Research Group in an effort to drive its products and services like Windows, Office and Cortana forward using artificial intelligence.
As the name suggests, the new division will incorporate Microsoft Research – which has been going for 25 years now – along with the Bing and Cortana product groups, the Ambient Computing and Robotics teams, plus Microsoft's Information Platform Group.
In total, all these groups combined make for over 5,000 computer scientists and engineers who will be part of the new AI and research division, which will be headed up by Harry Shum, who Microsoft refers to as a 'computer vision luminary'.
The key phrase for this new department appears to be 'democratising AI', which simply means making artificial intelligence accessible and available to everyone – and every business – in various different forms to make their lives easier.
This will mean, broadly, bringing new intelligent features to Microsoft's Windows OS and its various apps, as seen recently when the company revealed the likes of Tap for Word and Outlook in Office 365, which will automatically surface content from other files that it thinks might be relevant to the document (or email) you're currently working on.
And another arena we've seen a lot of movement in recently is bots and intelligent agents, and the likes of Skype bots and Cortana (which is becoming an increasingly pushed part of Windows 10, and now serves some 113 million customers according to Microsoft) are obviously a big part of the AI puzzle for Microsoft.
Importance of developers
The company also intends to push forward with making services such as machine analytics and computer vision available to app developers across the globe, to integrate into their products.
The final prong of Microsoft's artificial intelligence strategy is to build the "world's most powerful AI supercomputer with Azure", a cloud-based processing monster, the power of which will be accessible to anyone, the company notes. And beyond that, Microsoft is looking to quantum computing…
Shum, whose new title is executive vice president of the Microsoft AI and Research Group, commented: "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. 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."
Hopefully, then, progress across all these fronts will be made more swiftly when the new division is up and running, and firing on all cylinders. Microsoft says that the AI and Research Group is currently hiring on a worldwide basis.
Furthermore, earlier this week, Microsoft became part of an AI alliance of tech giants which aims to help the public understand artificial intelligence better, and to ensure that the technology doesn't ever get out of hand.
- Microsoft also recently said it was nailing speech recognition, so Cortana's future looks bright