Microsoft on Wednesday unveiled new tools intended to democratise artificial intelligence by enabling machine smarts to be built into software from smartphone games to factory floors.
The US technology titan opened its annual Build Conference by highlighting programmes with artificial intelligence that could tap into services in the internet “cloud” and even take advantage of computing power in nearby machines.
“We are infusing AI into every product and service we offer,” said Microsoft executive vice president of artificial intelligence and research Harry Shum. “We’ve been creating the building blocks for the current wave of AI breakthroughs for more than two decades.” Microsoft research has gone deep into areas such as machine learning, speech recognition, and enabling machines to recognise what they “see.” “Now, we’re in the unique position of being able to use those decades of research breakthroughs,” Shum said.
Artificial intelligence is getting a foothold in people’s homes, with personal assistants answering questions and controlling connected devices such as appliances or light bulbs.
Digital assistants already boast features such as reminding people of appointments entered into calendars and chiming in with advice to set out early if traffic is challenging.
Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella also highlighted the need to build trust in technology, saying new applications must avoid the dystopian futures feared by some. Nadella’s presentation included images from George Orwell’s “1984” and Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” to underscore the issue of responsibility of those creating new technologies. “What Orwell prophesied in ‘1984,’ where technology was being used to monitor, control, dictate, or what Huxley imagined we may do just by distracting ourselves without any meaning or purpose,” Nadella said. “Neither of these futures is something that we want… The future of computing is going to be defined by the choices that you as developers make and the impact of those choices on the world.”
Microsoft’s aim on Wednesday was on businesses and software developers, whether they be students building a fun app or professional technology teams. “Microsoft is trying to use AI for businesses to solve business problems and app developers to make applications better,” said Moor Insights and Strategy principal analyst Patrick Moorhead. “Which is different from Amazon, Facebook, and Google whose primary business model is to mine personal information using AI to sell you things or put ads in front of you.”
Microsoft is taking a unique approach by letting developers customise gesture commands, voice recognition and more instead of making them conform to settings in “off-the-shelf” AI, according to the analyst. Devices like smart surveillance cameras, smartphones, or factory floor machines were referred to as “edge computing,” with the coordination of cloud power and intelligent edge devices improving productivity and safety on the ground.
“The future is a smart cloud,” Nadella said, forecasting a future in which mobile devices take back seats to digital assistants hosted in the cloud that follow people from device to device.
“It is a pretty amazing world you can create using intelligent cloud and intelligent edge.”