A $1 billion cloud computing donation, ‘Minecraft’ heads to the classroom and editing genes with machine learning — Weekend Reading: Jan. 22 edition

Late January may be the dreariest stretch of the year, but it has been a downright exciting week at Microsoft. Here’s our latest edition of Weekend Reading with an overview of the company’s news highlights over the last days.

Yes, you read it correctly in the headline. That is $1 billion with a “b.” Microsoft’s donation will roll out over the next five years in the form of cloud computing resources to nonprofits, faculty researchers in universities, and communities that lack effective broadband access.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella announced, “Cloud computing is one of the most important transformations of our time… If we do not put this technology power in the hands of mission-driven organizations, we risk making a disproportionate investment in solutions to ‘first-world problems’ at the expense of solutions focused on the greater public good.”

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Our grantee and nonprofit partner Year Up helps at-risk youth gain tech skills and get jobs. 


“Minecraft” and OneNote continued to evolve and prove their versatility – this time in the classroom. On Tuesday, Microsoft acquired the learning game “MinecraftEdu” and introduced Learning Tools for OneNote, an important toolbar add-in for OneNote 2013 and 2016.

Building on the success of “MinecraftEdu,” a new title – available for free trial this summer – “will offer an expanded set of features to empower educators to foster deeper student engagement and collaboration,” wrote Anthony Salcito, vice president of Microsoft Education. He also explained that Learning Tools for OneNote is “designed specifically to improve reading and writing experiences for all students, including for those with learning disabilities like dyslexia.”

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Researchers from Microsoft and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard developed a new system that taps the power of machine learning to more quickly and effectively use the gene editing tool CRISPR.image 3

The new system, dubbed Azimuth, suggests which part of a gene a scientist should target when shutting off a gene. It also enables the model to make predictions for any gene of interest, including those not seen in the experimental training data. Two Microsoft researchers, Jennifer Listgarten and Nicolo Fusi, led the computational modeling aspect of the project.

For most of us, gene editing takes a back seat in our daily lives to more down-to-earth activities like, say, shopping. Last week, Microsoft unveiled new customer-service innovations at the National Retail Federation’s annual convention and expo in New York City.

These solutions help retailers find new ways to engage shoppers and speed up the dreaded checkout process. They include a crowd-sourced brand engagement tool from L’Oréal Paris and an app that enables faster grocery shopping. The goal is to make sure people no longer have to choose between the rich selection of online shopping and the service and attention of an in-store experience.

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In the ever-exciting world of apps… the newest version of Garmin Connect Mobile debuted last week. This redesigned app helps you focus on fitness and healthy living goals. It tracks your progress in concise, easy-to-understand charts, graphs, maps and more.

Digital insights deliver motivation to get moving if you’re not on track to meet your goals, and offer shout-outs when you pass a milestone. You can tap health tips from experts all along the way. With Cortana, you can tell the app to show your daily snapshot or ask “What is my best 5K time?”

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From hacked businesses to stolen intellectual property, security is critical to every single person using the Internet. This week on the Microsoft social channels, we learned how Microsoft’s Digital Crimes Unit uses the cloud to fight cybercrime around the globe.

That does it for this Weekend Reading. We hope you enjoyed it, and look forward to seeing you again next week.

Thomas Kohnstamm
Microsoft News Center Staff