Microsoft Combines Cortana, Bing And Research Into Powerhouse AI Division

Two of the biggest phrases in technology right now are deep learning and artificial intelligence. They're intertwined with one another, and Microsoft is betting big on both, as company CEO Satya Nadella recently underscored during a keynote at Microsoft's Ignite conference for IT professionals. As part of that ambitious transformation effort, Microsoft today announced the formation of what it's calling the Microsoft AI and Research Group.

The new division brings together Microsoft's renowned research division with more than 5,000 computer scientists and engineers focused on the company's efforts in AI products. Harry Shum, a 20-year veteran at Microsoft with multiple leadership roles under his belt, will lead the group. He'll be joined by several of the company's engineering leaders and teams, including Platform, Cortana and Bing, and Ambient Computing and Robotics.

Microsoft Research

"We live in a time when digital technology is transforming our lives, businesses and the world, but also generating an exponential growth in data and information," said Satya Nadella, CEO, Microsoft. "At Microsoft, we are focused on empowering both people and organizations, by democratizing access to intelligence to help solve our most pressing challenges. To do this, we are infusing AI into everything we deliver across our computing platforms and experiences."

"Microsoft has been working in artificial intelligence since the beginning of Microsoft Research, and yet we’ve only begun to scratch the surface of what’s possible," added Shum, executive vice president of the Microsoft AI and Research Group. "Today’s move signifies Microsoft’s commitment to deploying intelligent technology and democratizing AI in a way that changes our lives and the world around us for the better. We will significantly expand our efforts to empower people and organizations to achieve more with our tools, our software and services, and our powerful, global-scale cloud computing capabilities."

Microsoft is talking a lot about democraticizing AI for the population at large. What it means by that is making AI more accessible and valuable to everyone, where instead of being a novelty feature, AI will power real tools and services in logical and seamless ways. It's taking a four-pronged approach to this:

  • Agents: Harness AI to fundamentally change human and computer interaction through agents such as Microsoft’s digital personal assistant Cortana
  • Applications: Infuse every application, from the photo app on people’s phones to Skype and Office 365, with intelligence
  • Services: Make these same intelligent capabilities that are infused in Microsoft’s apps —cognitive capabilities such as vision and speech, and machine analytics — available to every application developer in the world
  • Infrastructure: Build the world’s most powerful AI supercomputer with Azure and make it available to anyone, to enable people and organizations to harness its power
Cortana isn't the end game strategy here, it's just the beginning. The vision Microsoft set out is one that has AI and deep learning playing a critical role in just about all of its services and products, from cloud and search to productivity apps such as Office 365.

If you want to be part of the effort, Microsoft notes that it's currently hiring for positions in its labs and offices around the world. Go here for more information.