Microsoft’s vision for AI (artificial intelligence) is about people. It’s about amplifying 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. This was the message shared on July 12 at an event in London by Harry Shum, Executive Vice-President of Microsoft’s AI and Research Group.
The event was attended by scientists, technology experts and journalists, who gathered to learn more about Microsoft’s AI intentions from Shum and other Microsoft executives, including Eric Horvitz, Technical Fellow and Director at Microsoft Research Labs, Chris Bishop, Technical Fellow and Laboratory Director at Microsoft Research Cambridge, and Emma Williams, General Manager at Bing.
During the discussion, a number of announcements were made that further reinforced Microsoft’s focus on AI, including a new program that will make technology available to those working to tackle the planet’s toughest environmental problems.
The AI for Earth program will offer non-governmental organizations and other groups access to AI tools and services and technical support to enable them to more efficiently and effectively tackle issues related to water, agriculture, climate change and biodiversity.
In many parts of the world, people find it difficult to access a regular supply of fresh, clean water and nutritious food. Environmental scientists have found that changes to habitats, from the development of land and climate change, are causing species to die out 100 to 1,000 times faster than the natural rate. These trends are only expected to grow more pervasive and severe.
To help address issues such as these, Microsoft announced it will invest more than $2 million into its program in the next year. This will take the form of grants that enable access to its cloud and AI tools and platforms, training sessions on the technologies and lighthouse projects. Microsoft’s chief environmental scientist, Lucas Joppa, used the London event to share more details about the program and the tools available.
The company also announced Microsoft Research AI, a new research and incubation hub within Microsoft Research, to address the most difficult challenges in AI; an exploration of new AI principles and an Ethical Design Guide for AI, which will help Microsoft developers make AI accessible and inclusive so humans can make the most of the opportunities that AI will create; the availability of Seeing AI (above), a new iOS app that’s available without additional charge to help blind and low-vision people harness the power of AI to open up the visual world, and a new partnership with machine learning expert Max Welling from the University of Amsterdam.
Microsoft also introduced a number of updates to Microsoft Cognitive Services, a collection of services that enables developers to easily add intelligent features – such as emotion and sentiment detection, vision and speech recognition, knowledge, search and language understanding – into their applications. Today’s updates include a new Bing Entity Search API, and the availability of Project Prague gestures SDK and Presentation Translator (below), a PowerPoint add-in that gives presenters the ability to add subtitles to their presentations across the same language or more than 60 different languages. These new offerings were shown onstage and in hands-on demos at the event, while a number of customers were also onsite to show how they are using Microsoft’s AI tools and technologies to transform their businesses.