Last month, Microsoft teams from across the Bay Area came together in our Sunnyvale office to learn about artificial intelligence (AI), the emerging technologies that fall within that category of innovation, and how best to apply them.
The AI Symposium is an annual event that offers local Microsoft employees the chance to hone their AI acumen and learn how other groups are applying intelligent technologies within their products. The day-long program is unique to the Bay Area, due largely to the concentration of Microsoft engineering programs and the rapid growth of the region’s AI and machine learning ecosystem. Throughout the day, employees can learn everything from deep-learning algorithms in Bing, to machine teaching tools with Autonomous Systems, to how to build Azure AI-enabled solutions from on premise to the edge, and more. This year there were 35 sessions for participants to attend.
AI Symposium is hosted by our local Garage, a program that drives a culture of innovation at Microsoft. The program is dedicated to helping Microsoft employees pursue passions and advance their technical skill sets. AI is an area of high interest in the region and across the globe. In the U.S. alone, from January 2015 to January 2018 the number of active AI startups increased 2.1 times while all active startups increased 1.3 times according to Stanford University’s AI Index. Venture capital funding, a major economic driver for the Bay Area, for AI startups rose 4.5 times between 2013 and 2017, while funding for all active startups increased 2.08 times.
Microsoft believes that AI has the potential to offer tremendous benefits, and that a collaborative approach to AI development—as framed by our Microsoft AI principles—helps us reap them more swiftly. Grounded in those principles, Rukmini Iyer, distinguished engineer and head of Bing Ads, kicked off the day. She encouraged participants to take a community approach to learning AI’s potential for addressing real-world challenges, exercising the power of many ideas and technologies.
(Rukmini Iyer, distinguished engineer and head of Bing Ads, shared the importance of establishing a community to learn from each other and advance intelligent technologies.)
Stephanie Krieger, senior program manager for Data Box Edge, then led one of the two keynote sessions for the day. She discussed how her team is enabling AI solutions on the intelligent edge with Azure Data Box Edge. “Data Box Edge is an edge computing appliance with a built-in storage gateway,” she explained. “By processing data with the power of AI at the edge, customers can get faster insights from business-critical data and optimize the data that goes to the cloud.”
(Stephanie Krieger, senior program manager for Data Box Edge, explained how intelligent technologies are enabling services along the intelligent edge.)
The second keynote of the day featured Scott Stanfield, director from our Autonomous Systems. His interactive session demonstrated the key precepts of machine teaching. Broom in hand, he demonstrated a cart–pole simulation, and how the team is using a combination of control theory, machine teaching and reinforcement learning to make industrial systems more autonomous and safe. Scott noted, “You get what you incentivize, not what you intend. The process isn’t any different when making machines understand tasks.”
(Scott Stanfield, director from our Autonomous Systems team, demonstrated the cart-pole application of reinforcement learning.)
The rest of the day was filled with sessions that ranged from those for AI novices to the highly technical. David Hall, our local principal researcher for Semantic Machines, shared the Microsoft approach to understanding dialogue, while Angelo Liao, program manager for PowerPoint, discussed what machine learning is and described scenarios in which it can be applied. Employees from Redmond flew down to participate in the event, including Shital Shah, a principal research software and development engineer with Microsoft Research.
Microsoft likes to inspire its employees to think big, dream bold, and advance our world. Here in the Bay Area, we are dedicated to creating intelligent experiences that empower others and seek to solve some of society’s greatest challenges through responsible AI innovation.
If you are interested in joining our teams and working on AI–enabled solutions, Bay Area job openings can be found here: https://aka.ms/MicrosoftBayAreaCareers.
(Employees gathered at our local Sunnyvale office to hear about Microsoft AI technology solutions and applications.)