Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Microsoft says it’s infusing AI into all of its products from Xbox to Office

Microsoft wants to make AI available to all developers through its “intelligent cloud” and accessible to devices at the “intelligent edge.” At its Build developer conference in Seattle this morning, the company explained its vision, which is organized around the interaction of the cloud, data and devices.

It offered a media preview of its keynote and announcements last night. This morning, Microsoft’s Satya Nadella, Scott Guthrie and Harry Shum took the stage in succession to explore what AI and the intelligent cloud mean for developers and Microsoft’s products.

CEO Satya Nadella cited growth milestones and laid out the company’s big-picture vision. He sees Microsoft providing the cloud-based global infrastructure for developers and the delivery of intelligent services, primarily on mobile devices. At the same time, he sounded a cautious note about the larger role of technology in society and talked about the need to “build trust in technology.”

Among the milestones the company announced were the following:

  • 500 million monthly active Windows 10 users
  • 100 million commercial users of Office 365
  • 140 million monthly active users of Cortana (across platforms)

Artificial intelligence was a repeated theme throughout the morning, in Nadella’s opening and for subsequent speakers Guthrie and Shum. Guthrie is EVP of  Microsoft’s Cloud and Enterprise group. Shum is EVP of the company’s Artificial Intelligence and Research Group. (Bing and Cortana now reside in Shum’s group.)

Here’s a partial list of some of the other announcements being made this morning:

  • Azure Cosmos DB, a new “planet-scale” cloud services platform
  • Azure SQL Database improvements
  • Visual Studio 2017 for Mac in general availability
  • Bing Custom Search, among several other “custom services”
  • With Microsoft’s Bot Framework, developers can publish to Bing, Cortana and Skype for Business
  • New Cortana-related partnerships with HP and Intel
  • Cortana Skills Kit public preview with cross-platform distribution

Microsoft’s Guthrie spoke at length about the new Azure Cosmos database and more broadly about the company’s cloud services and capabilities. Much of the discussion was highly technical for the developer audience.

Harry Shum took the stage as the final keynote speaker of the morning to discuss the combination of the cloud and AI. He explained that AI is being integrated into every Microsoft product, from “Xbox to Windows and from Bing to Office.” Microsoft’s use of AI is often not obvious to consumers (e.g., Office).

Cortana is one area where AI is very much on public display. Shum said that one of Microsoft’s objectives was to make it easier for developers to reach Cortana’s 140+ million users. He also said that since it was introduced last year, more than 130,000 developers have registered with the Microsoft Bot Framework.

One theme that also emerged last night at the media briefing, and throughout the discussion this morning, was Microsoft’s effort to position itself as a champion of openness in a market now dominated by five big platforms, some of which are characterized as walled gardens. The Cortana SDK strategy is an example of that effort — a move of both principle and necessity for the company.

Microsoft hinted that there will be more discussion of devices and consumer-facing announcements during tomorrow’s keynote.

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Author: Greg Sterling

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