Microsoft: “In a few years, it will be hard to imagine any tech that doesn’t tap into the power of AI”
Posted: 11 May 2017 | By Darcie Thompson-Fields
Microsoft Build 2017
Microsoft claims AI already has the potential to disrupt “every single vertical industry” on the planet, after announcing plans to help democratise the technology, from developers and data scientists to tech enthusiasts and students.
The message was made on stage by Harry Shum, Executive Vice President, Microsoft AI and Research, who was speaking yesterday at the annual Build 2017 developer conference in Seattle.
Shum, who lauded the fact Microsoft is something of a pioneer with than two decades in AI R&D under its belt, said the firm was infusing AI into every product and service its offers, from Xbox to Windows, from Bing to Office, whilst also helping developers build and deploy AI products and services using its cognitive platforms.
“A few years ago, it was hard to think of a commonly used technology tool that used AI,” said Shum. “In a few years, it will be hard to imagine any technology that doesn’t tap into the power of AI.
“AI now has the potential to disrupt every single vertical industry, like banking or retail, and every single business process, from sales and marketing to HR and recruiting.
“The mainstream popularity of AI is new, but Microsoft’s investment in AI isn’t. We’ve been creating the building blocks for the current wave of AI breakthroughs for more than two decades, through groundbreaking research in areas such as machine learning, speech recognition, and computer vision and image recognition.
He added: “We’re in the unique position of being able to use those decades of research breakthroughs, along with access to data through the Microsoft Graph and the computing power of our Azure cloud, as the basis for a new generation of tools and products from which developers and customers can benefit. We’re finally able to realise the dream of AI.”
Shum puts the rise of AI and its capabilities down to what he calls, “three major forces.”. These include increased computing power in the cloud, powerful algorithms that run on deep neural networks and access to massive amounts of data.
He discussed Microsoft’s Cognitive Services platform, on which developers can build apps that recognise gestures, translate text in multiple languages, deconstruct video for quicker search, editing and real-time captioning, and even customise data to recognise images in categories most important to customers.
He said the firm now offers 29 Cognitive Services, giving developers a “wealth of options” for incorporating “off-the-shelf” and custom AI capabilities with just a few lines of code. New services added include; Bing Custom Search, Custom Vision Service, Custom Decision Service and Video Indexer.
“Microsoft Cognitive Services is the industry’s broadest offering of AI services, and the company is the only major provider to offer customisation across all the key cognitive areas,” said Shum. “Since launching at Build in 2015, more than 568,000 developers from more than 60 countries have signed up to use our services.”
Microsoft also unveiled its news Microsoft’s Cognitive Services Labs, which allows developers to take part in the research community’s quest to better understand the future of AI. One of the first AI services available through the platform is a gesture API that creates more intuitive and natural experiences by allowing users to control and interact through gestures.
“The improvements we are making in understanding speech and language are driving a paradigm shift — moving away from a world where we’ve had to understand computers to one where computers understand humans. We call this conversational AI,” discussed Shum.
For those developers who want to train their own deep neural networks, at Build Microsoft also announced a private preview of a new offering, Azure Batch AI Training. Developers can use this new service to train their models using any framework they choose, including Microsoft Cognitive Toolkit, TensorFlow and Caffe. At Build, we also showed how developers can take these deep learning models to where the data is, by using the analytics integration provided by Azure Data Lake, Azure Cosmos DB or SQL Server.
“At Microsoft, we want to bring AI to every developer so we can help you create the next generation of AI-powered applications with the Microsoft Cloud, with Microsoft AI innovations and with the Microsoft Graph. As the computer scientist Alan Kay said, “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.”
For more details on the new Microsoft Lab and its new and existing AI products and services, please visit the official website, by clicking here