Artificial intelligence is quickly shaping up to be one of the key defining technology areas of our time. A day after announcing a new artificial intelligence partnership with IBM, Google, Facebook and Amazon, Microsoft is upping the ante within its own walls. The tech giant announced that it is creating a new AI business unit, the Microsoft AI and Research Group, which will be led by Microsoft Research EVP Harry Shum. Shum will oversee 5,000 computer scientists, engineers and others who will all be “focused on the company’s AI product efforts,” the company said in an announcement. The unit will be working on all aspects of AI and how it will be applied at the company, covering agents, apps, services and infrastructure.
Shum has been involved in some of Microsoft’s biggest product efforts at the ground level of research, including the development of its Bing search engine, as well as in its efforts in computer vision and graphics: that is a mark of where Microsoft is placing its own priority for AI in the years to come.
Many of the advances that have happened around AI up to now are the stuff of labs — and perhaps because of the emerging nature of it, often weighed down by the technicalities of the endeavour. Microsoft, in its own words, is trying to “democratize” AI tech — in other words, make more applications out of it that will end up in your hands, my hands and in the hands of businesses and other organizations. It’s not the only one: IBM, for example, has its large Watson group where development of technologies and making products from them often go hand-in-hand.
Here are Microsoft’s four areas of emphasis explained a bit more, in the words of Microsoft itself:
- Harness AI to fundamentally change human and computer interaction through agents such as Microsoft’s digital personal assistant Cortana
- Infuse every application, from the photo app on people’s phones to Skype and Office 365, with intelligence
- 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
- Build the world’s most powerful AI supercomputer with Azure and make it available to anyone, to enable people and organizations to harness its power