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October 7, 2016updated 25 Oct 2016 1:11pm

Microsoft CEO pitches Azure as ‘world’s first AI supercomputer’ for developers

Microsoft's Nadella wants to bring data and machine learning from the Azure cloud into every application.

By Alexander Sword

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella wants to turn AI and machine learning into building blocks for developers to use in their applications, he declared at the Transform conference in London.

Microsoft

Microsoft pitched Azure to developers at Transform.

In a keynote speech at the conference, Nadella said that he wanted to turn Azure into the “world’s first AI supercomputer” to allow developers to add intelligence to their applications.

“This is something we’ve done historically as a company: focused on the developer and built out these tools,” said Nadella, saying that Microsoft was offering AI technology in the form of a platform-as-a-service.

“Every compute node actually has field-programmable gate arrays. This means you can distribute your AI workloads to run at the speed of silicon and get the most out of the computing fabric that is available to you.”

Nadella explained how these capabilities were available as a set of APIs to allow every developer to add knowledge to their applications. He cited what he referred to as best-in-class support for information management and state-of-the-art capabilities in speech and object recognition.

Ben Medlock, co-founder and CTO at SwiftKey, was invited onstage during Nadella’s keynote to demonstrate how the predictive typing app was using machine learning in the cloud to power its app.

Nadella announced the launch of local data centres in the UK in October.

Nadella announced the launch of local data centres in the UK in October.

Dan Marsh of International Alert, a company which used data to predict the outcome of the Nigerian elections in 2015, also showed how resources in the Azure cloud helped to process the data.

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Nadella said that there remained boundaries between different types of application, such as productivity and business process, that had been created by the technology industry.

Nadella said that Microsoft wanted to take a “different” approach, making software that transcended these boundaries by bringing data and machine learning from the Azure cloud into every application.

For example, speaking about Microsoft’s customer relationship management (CRM) technology, he said that he wanted to “build a relationship into CRM that knows what’s going on outside CRM”.

At the conference, Nadella also elaborated on Microsoft’s concept of the cloud-first, mobile-first world, in which he said the cloud provides the control plane to enable mobility. This involved a focus on building a global cloud, exemplified by the recent announcement of new data centres in the UK, which Nadella said in a month had achieved over 1000 customers.

He also pitched Windows 10 as the universal operating system for all devices.

Nadella also announced at the event that the national data science body for the UK, the Alan Turing Institute will get access to cloud computing services from Microsoft worth $5 million.

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