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Microsoft creates a new 5,000-strong AI division; forms 'Partnership on AI' with Google, Facebook, Amazon, and IBM
By Ng Chong Seng - on 30 Sep 2016, 2:15pm

Microsoft creates a new 5,000-strong AI division; forms 'Partnership on AI' with Google, Facebook, Amazon, and IBM

In an attempt to democratize artificial intelligence (i.e., making AI and its benefits available to every individual and business), Microsoft is doing a major company re-org. 20-year Microsoft veteran and renowned computer scientist Harry Shum will be leading the newly created, 5000-strong Microsoft AI and Research Group as its executive vice president, which is made up of the existing Microsoft Research group and other groups, including the Information Platform, Cortana and Bing, Ambient Computing and Robotics teams.

Microsoft’s extreme interest in AI is no secret. The company’s cross-device, AI-powered Cortana personal assistant has over 133 million active users today and has already served over 12 billion queries. Not forgetting Cortana Intelligence Suite, Microsoft’s big data and advanced analytics suite that harnesses machine learning, intelligence, and the cloud to predict what’s next for businesses across a variety of industries. And in Office 365, MyAnalytics makes use of AI and the Microsoft Graph to provide personalized insights about how you spend your time at work. Then there’s Microsoft’s Bot Framework, the company's CNTK deep learning framework, its FPGA-enabled Azure cloud that’s also the world’s “first AI supercomputer” - well, you get the idea.

All these are just a few examples how Microsoft is approaching this AI democratization. Calling it a four-pronged approach, in short, the company aims to use AI to deliver more intelligent features through agents like Cortana; through its own apps like Skype Translate; through third-party apps and services by providing developers with the proper tools and APIs; and through building up infrastructure like its Azure cloud and making it available to anyone.

Partnership on AI

Of course, Microsoft isn’t the only company out there interested in AI. Google and Facebook are two of many others that have spent considerable resources in AI research. And today, Microsoft, Google/DeepMind, and Facebook, along with Amazon, and IBM have founded ‘Partnership on AI’, an initiative to use AI to benefit people and society.

According to Partnership on AI’s website and FAQ, the companies have come together to address important issues regarding AI, including questions around ethics, safety, transparency, privacy, biases, and fairness. The group “intends to conduct research, organize discussions, share insights, provide thought leadership, consult with relevant third parties, respond to questions from the public and media, and create educational material that advance the understanding of AI technologies including machine perception, learning, and automated reasoning.”

Interesting to note is that, Apple and non-profit AI research lab OpenAI (which is backed by Elon Musk) aren’t part of Partnership on AI. According to the Guardian, the partnership has already been in discussions with Apple; and OpenAI’s co-founder and CTO, Greg Brockman, says that the research lab is “looking forward to non-profits being included as first-class members in the future.”

Source: Microsoft, Partnership on AI.


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