Microsoft AI: Empowering transformation

The era of artificial intelligence is upon us and has the potential to transform our lives, industries and society in ways that may be difficult to imagine today. AI offers us new ways to boost employee productivity and creativity, increase business agility, improve customer engagement and jumpstart new product innovation – and that’s just the beginning of what is possible.

Throughout Microsoft’s 43-year history, we have focused on democratizing the benefits of computing to overcome barriers to human progress, enabling every person and organization on the planet to achieve more. Microsoft AI is not a product that comes in a box. It is our vision to empower every developer, organization and individual to innovate and transform the world with AI.

Empowering developers to innovate 

Microsoft has been creating the building blocks for AI for 25 years and our relentless focus on innovation has culminated in an explosion of breakthroughs. More than ever before, we are investing heavily in putting this innovation into the hands of developers around the world. Since the announcement of Project Oxford more than three years ago, which was the beginning of what ultimately became Azure Cognitive Services, we pioneered the creation of AI as a service.

With Azure Cognitive Services, we offer pre-built AI Services for any developer to use, surfacing innovation and breakthroughs in speech, text, vision and translation – and these innovations are now included in the Azure AI Platform, which bundles the largest set of pre-built and customizable AI services.

I have been thrilled to see the growth in our ecosystem of Microsoft AI developers — more than 1 million developers are now using Azure Cognitive Services. The usage of AI services and the pace of innovation is rapidly increasing. We are committed to helping every developer become an AI developer with our investments in AI School and AI Lab, which are targeted at making it easy for developers to experiment, learn and create.

Empowering organizations to transform 

Gartner reports that while 85 percent of enterprises will be using AI by 2020, only 25 percent have started or are planning to start their AI initiatives in the near term. The foundation for AI is data. The volume of data is doubling every year, so it’s no surprise that the task of turning chaotic data estates into knowledge is daunting. We consistently hear from customers that their data is siloed, and much of it is unstructured, making it hard to move and even harder to get insights from. In a world where time to market is key, productivity is king and organizations are struggling to grow and nurture the development skills needed in their organization to embrace AI.  There are also concerns regarding just how ready AI is for prime-time in an organization where reliability, security, trust and scale are table stakes.

Every company is unique and there is no single path to driving AI transformation. Our approach with Microsoft AI is to meet you wherever you are on your path to transforming. A major differentiator in our approach is that Microsoft’s data platform enables you to reason over data no matter where it resides. Whether data is on premise, in the cloud or on the IoT Edge, you don’t need to move your data to reason over it. We empower developers to use the tools and frameworks they know and love with Azure AI, meaning developers can use skills they already have and can deploy AI models anywhere. The Azure platform is engineered for the future with the enterprise-grade service-level agreements, scale, built-in privacy, compliance and security that your organization needs to make AI real for every application, every business process and every employee.

Bring AI to every application 

Just like the internet explosion catalyzed organizations to create corporate websites, companies will start to infuse AI into existing applications and create completely new applications with cognitive services. Through this infusion, we foresee companies revolutionizing how they engage externally with customers and internally with employees. For example, the breakthrough innovations that I mentioned earlier are enabling organizations to push the boundaries of what’s possible with conversational AI. Customers such as Progressive, Telefónica and Publicis Groupe are using Microsoft AI to customize and personalize their customer and employee engagements and transform the industries they are operating in.

Bring AI to every business process 

At the other end of the spectrum, organizations are looking to AI to help re-invent and re-define complex business scenarios. Microsoft’s approach is to empower complex business process transformation with enterprise-ready, out-of-the-box, AI-infused solutions. With a robust ecosystem of 300,000 partners around the world, Microsoft has partnered with organizations across a wide range of industries to meet vertical-specific needs. Blue Metal, Microsoft’s AI partner of the year, worked with Stewart Healthcare to radically transform the patient experience. Leveraging Microsoft AI, they are now able to predict within 98 percent accuracy the length of patient stays, resulting in a vastly improved patient experience and a projected savings of $48 million per year.

Bring AI to every employee 

Imagine the possibilities available to your business when the huge amounts of siloed data across your organization become connected and enriched with world data, becoming the center of gravity for knowledge. Now expand upon this and imagine the possibilities if you were able to expose that knowledge to every employee in your organization with a conversational AI interface that makes it intuitive and simple to access and query. It’s about empowering employees to participate with a self-service AI approach, helping them to become citizen data scientists and enabling them to get information faster and in ways that previously would have been highly difficult, if not impossible. We believe the full potential of AI is realized when it’s truly democratized and for us that means putting it into the hands of every employee. This is the next frontier of fully democratizing AI.

Empowering people to transform society 

Microsoft’s vision of empowerment goes far beyond business. In fact, the impact of AI will be the greatest when used to empower all of us to positively transform society. Societal change requires a deep commitment to ensuring the benefits of AI are spread throughout society. While AI provides us with massive opportunities, it also creates new societal challenges and concerns that we must address head on.  At Microsoft, we’ve identified six principles – fairness, reliability and safety, privacy and security, inclusivity, transparency, and accountability – to guide the development and use of AI in ways that would increase its trustworthiness. We established an internal committee, AETHER, to proactively establish internal policies and ensure our AI platform and experience is grounded in these six principles.  However, the task of building responsible and trusted AI is not the responsibility of any one company.  We’re actively engaging and participating with governments, institutions and associations including the Partnership on AI, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, and the International Standards Organization to help shape policies and standards to guide trusted and ethical AI development.  Through our AI for Good initiative, Microsoft has committed over $115 million to AI for Earth, AI for Accessibility and, most recently, AI for Humanitarian Action. Our goal with all of the AI for Good programs is to empower and accelerate the impact that people around the world can have in solving some of society’s biggest challenges.   I am inspired by the new possibilities our AI for Good grantees are driving in areas ranging from disaster relief to accessibility, water conservation, climate change, species conversation and more.

The future we create is a choice we make. I invite you to learn more about how Microsoft is empowering developers, organizations and society to harness and reap the benefits of AI at our recently published Microsoft AI White Paper.

About the author

A 26-year veteran of Microsoft, Mitra Azizirad has held key leadership positions across a wide array of technical, marketing and sales functions. Mitra is currently the Corporate Vice President for Artificial Intelligence Marketing.  She is responsible for defining and accelerating productization of Microsoft’s portfolio of AI innovation as well as leading the company-wide AI marketing strategy.