Microsoft recently announced it would be restructuring 5,000 employees as it focuses its efforts on artificial intelligence with a new AI and Research Group. The Redmond giant is pulling computer scientists and engineers from Microsoft Research, the Information Platfrom, Bing, and Cortana groups, and the Ambient Computing and Robotics teams. Led by 20 year Microsoft veteran Harry Shum (who has worked in both research and engineering roles at Microsoft), the new AI team promises to "democratize AI" and be a leader in the field with intelligent products and services.
It seems that "democratizing AI" is less about free artificial intelligence and more about making the technology accessible to everyone. The AI and Research Group plans to develop artificial intelligence to the point where it will change how humans interact with their computers (read: Cortana 2.0) with services and commands being conversational rather than strict commands, new applications baked with AI such as office and photo editors that are able to proof read and suggest optimal edits respectively, and new vision, speech, and machine analytics APIs that other developers will be able to harness for their own applications. (Wow that's quite the long sentence – sorry!)
Further, Microsoft wants to build the world's fastest AI supercomputer using its Azure cloud computing service. The Azure-powered AI will be available to everyone for their applications and research needs (for a price, of course!). Microsoft certainly has the money, brain power, and computing power to throw at the problem, and this may be one of the major areas where looking to "the cloud" for a company's computing needs is a smart move as the up front capital needed for hardware, engineers, and support staff to do something like this in-house would be extremely prohibative. It remains to be seen whether Microsoft will win out in the wake of competitors at being the first, but it is certainly staking its claim and does not want to be left out completely.
“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 democratizing 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 organizations to achieve more with our tools, our software and services, and our powerful, global-scale cloud computing capabilities.”
Interestingly, this announcement comes shortly after a previous announcement that industry giants Amazon, Facebook, Google-backed DeepMind, IBM, and Microsoft founded the not-for-profit Partnership On AI organization that will collaborate and research best practices on AI development and exploitation (and hopefully how to teach them not to turn on us heh).
I am looking forward to the future of AI and the technologies it will enable!