Tech giants are currently scrambling to sculpt their own unique AI proposition, be it IBM with its Watson APIs for ‘cognitive business’ or Salesforce pitching Einstein as a way to better connect with customers. Microsoft, however, are sculpting a slightly different AI proposition, one that is caring, sharing and for the good of the world.
Underpinning this strategy is Microsoft’s vision that AI is all about people – a vision which was reinforced at an event held today in London.
The tech giant sold its vision with aplomb, saying that AI has the power to, in Microsoft’s own words, “amplify human ingenuity through intelligent technology that will reason with, understand and interact with people and, together with people, help us solve some of society’s most fundamental challenges.”
A wordy pitch, but one which was backed up by a series of announcements such as the new $2 million fund for NGOs – dubbed AI for Earth. The idea around the new fund is to enable NGOs to access AI tools, services and technical support to enable them to fight a plethora of issues ranging from water and agriculture, to climate change and biodiversity.
Tapping into Microsoft’s commitment to sustainability, Microsoft will offer access to cloud and AI computing resources, technology training and lighthouse projects to researchers and organisations. Commenting on the launch, Brad Smith, President and Chief Legal Officer, said in a blog:
“The scale and speed of the changes we see in our physical and natural world require new solutions. But the latest innovative technologies often come with a price tag and require computational expertise that puts them out of reach for many researchers and nongovernmental organizations.”
Also announced at the event was nothing short of an amazing app dedicated to helping the visually impaired community. The Seeing AI app leverages the power of AI to describe nearby people, emotions, texts and objects to those who are visually imparied.
Again, this app taps into Microsoft’s belief that people are at the centre of AI, with the technology almost offering unlimited opportunity to change the world for the better.
“Seeing AI will use computer vision, image and speech recognition, natural language processing and machine learning from Microsoft’s Cognitive Services and Office Lens to help describe a person’s surroundings, read text, answer questions and even identify emotions on people’s faces,” Microsoft’s Daniel Hubbell said in a blog.
Seeing AI, however, may only be the beginning for Microsoft in actually impacting people’s lives with AI, as the tech giant also used the London event to announce a new research and incubation hub within Microsoft Research.
Microsoft Research AI will look to address the most difficult challenges in AI, bringing together scientists and engineers to help solve global challenges. Further committment to research was also made with a partnership announced between Microsoft Research Cambridge and machine reading expert Max Welling, from the University of Amsterdam.
Carrying on with the ‘save the world’ vibe, the London event was also used as a platform to announce an ethical design guide for AI, which will involve an exploratory set of new design principles. Microsoft plans for the guide to be a resource for everyone working on AI products or incubations – again, pushing this ‘Microsoft for all’ mantra.
Straying momentarily away from the ethical and sustainability vibe, the tech giant announced some updates for its Cognitive Services. Updates included a new Bing Entity Search API and the availability of Project Prague gestures SDK, as well as a PowerPoint add-in. The add-in gives presenters the ability to add subtitles to their presentations across the same language or more than 60 different languages.
Although many will be looking to where Microsoft will generate revenue from its AI focus – and there will be business applications aplenty and huge money to be made – Microsoft is looking o be the ‘people person’ of the tech giants where AI is concerned. Putting people at the core of its AI strategy, not business, may prove astute in a time where more and more individuals and businesses are prioritising sustainability and going green.
Also, who wouldn’t choose Microsoft over competitors if they really can deliver on their promise to save the world? If they can solve the world’s problems, think what they could do for your business.
“We are living in a golden age of AI advances… We as a technology company have the chance to channel all those innovations into tools that help people do their jobs better and more efficiently, and that solve some of the world’s toughest challenges. Using AI, we are already finding better ways to do things as seemingly narrow as determining what email warrants your attention and as astonishingly complex as discovering a personalised cancer treatment,” said Harry Shum, EVP Microsoft AI and Research.
“As technology that uses AI gets smarter, we want to ensure that we take a responsible approach to our progress – and one that will ultimately provide the most benefit to our customers and to society as a whole.”