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Microsoft combines research facilities to tackle AI

Steve Rogerson
October 6, 2016

Microsoft has formed an artificial intelligence and research group bringing together more than 5000 computer scientists and engineers focused on the company's AI product efforts.
The group will be led by computer vision luminary Harry Shum, a 20-year Microsoft veteran whose career has spanned leadership roles across Microsoft Research and Bing engineering.
"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," said Shum. "Today's move signifies Microsoft's commitment to deploying intelligent technology and democratising 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 organisations to achieve more with our tools, our software and services, and our powerful, global-scale cloud computing capabilities."
Microsoft says it is dedicated to democratising AI for every person and organisation, making it more accessible and valuable to everyone and ultimately enabling new ways to solve some of society's toughest problems. This announcement builds on the company's deep focus on AI and will accelerate the delivery of capabilities to customers across agents, apps, services and infrastructure.
In addition to Shum's existing leadership team, several of the company's engineering leaders and teams will join the newly formed group including information platforms Cortana and Bing, and ambient computing and robotics teams led by David Ku, Derrick Connell and Vijay Mital. All combined, the group will encompass AI product engineering, basic and applied research labs, and new experiences and technologies.
"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 of Microsoft. "At Microsoft, we are focused on empowering both people and organisations, by democratising 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 is taking a four-pronged approach to its initiative to democratise AI:

  • Agents. Harness AI to 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 organisations to harness its power.
For 25 years, Microsoft Research has contributed to advancing the state of the art of computing through its basic and applied research that has been shared openly with the industry and academic communities, and with product groups within Microsoft. The organisation has contributed technologies to nearly every product and service Microsoft has produced in this timeframe, from Office and Xbox to HoloLens and Windows.
More recently, Shum has expanded the organisation's mission to include the incubation of disruptive technologies and new businesses.
"My job has been to take Microsoft Research, an amazing asset for the company, and make it even more of a value-creation engine for Microsoft and our industry," Shum said. "Today's move to bring research and engineering even closer will accelerate our ability to deliver more personal and intelligent computing experiences to people and organisations worldwide."
The AI and research group is hiring for positions in its laboratories and offices worldwide.