Microsoft stands behind AI
We have just spent the last few days on the Bangalore campus of Microsoft India, what we have achieved this past year and look forward to accomplishing in the years to come. Heads of the division came on stage in 2018 to be proud of Microsoft’s variety of services, challenges and achievements in industries such as information technology, healthcare, agriculture, etc. The thing to note is that almost every couple of days the slides they showed had a reference to that unforgettable new wordword, ‘AI’.
Ananta Maheshwari, President, Microsoft India, inaugurated the event by expressing confidence in the inclusion of AI models in the company’s services. He introduced the concept of ‘Tech Intensity’, a formula that could be developed by promoting ‘Tech Adoption’ to ‘Tech Capability’. According to him, tech adoption refers to Microsoft’s AI-powered services and tech capability refers to what Microsoft customers create with them. To support his cause, he invited representatives of customers such as Wipro Technologies, Future Generali, and Apollo Hospitals to the forum to understand how they use Microsoft’s AI-powered services and what their ‘secret sauce’ was in implementing them. . Featured products include Azure, Power BI, and Team.
PowerPoint Designer and Excel Ideas
Explaining how its AI technology is slowly being incorporated into many of its offerings, Microsoft Office 365 showcases a number of features recently added, making it a long-lasting suite of productivity tools. The first one is called PowerPoint Designer. Appearing as a sidebar in PowerPoint, it does this by offering design ideas for your current slide, as if you had thrown in some elements like images and some text. For example, you could type ‘Leadership Team’ in the title of a slide and drag a few pictures. Designers will rearrange these elements to present slide design ideas that you can easily choose without having to worry about styling.
As a second example, Microsoft has demonstrated ideas in Excel. Reappearing as a sidebar in Excel, Ideas suggests relevant actions to perform on user-selected data. For example, you can select several rows and columns in a spreadsheet, and ideas can suggest possible graphs and charts using selection criteria. While I find both of these features impressive, I haven’t seen anything new about them since Microsoft introduced them to Office 365 about two years ago.
Microsoft Research India
The Indian Microsoft research team has unveiled the GesturePod, a small device attached to a walking cane that helps blind people control their smartphones using their cane gestures. For example, a double tap on the cane on the floor could answer a call and twisting the cane clockwise could end it. A Bluetooth low energy module, an Arduino MK1000 board and a small rechargeable lithium polymer battery. Apparently, the team had to come up with a newly developed algorithm instead of compression so that the Wakeword detection feature would be less than one kilobyte in size.
Microsoft has seen its garage-enhanced smartphone apps such as Kaizala, a phone number-based chat app for inter-network coordination and an AI-powered accessibility app for the visually impaired seeing AI. During the demonstration, AI saw and pointed to a currency note on the phone’s camera, which was worth one hundred rupees. Microsoft has also showcased Soundscape, another AI research project aimed at helping people with low vision. Soundscape gives the user a description of their surroundings using synthetic binocular audio, creating a 3D sound effect.
Microsoft and its partners
According to Microsoft, it has more than 9,500 partners in India, of which one-third (or 2,995 of them) are cloud partners. Through a series of presentations, the company emphasizes the importance of partnering with Microsoft through the Microsoft Partner Network to create cloud-based applications. It demonstrates how initiatives such as ScaleUp, which include co-selling partner products, are helping Series A-funded startups bring their products to the Azure Marketplace. The power of AI-powered Azure is provided by Microsoft to these startups. Microsoft also talked about the M12, its corporate venture capital subsidiary that was originally founded in 2016 as Microsoft Ventures.
Summary: Commitment to responsible AI
In two days, Microsoft walked us through many of its services (many of which were enterprise-grade) and presented various ideas for the future, along with a list of challenges they created. All of them promised not only to use its AI models for good software but also to use it responsibly. By the time the event was over, we were amazed at everything America’s big software giant had planned for the future. Will AI really pave the way for a simpler and smarter future? Only time will tell.