Computers that get what we’re saying, new innovations for business and real-time insight for Giving Tuesday – Weekend Reading: Dec. 4 edition

| Vanessa Ho

Microsoft news spanned the globe this week and encompassed a variety of technologies that enrich innovation, productivity and generosity. Lots of good stuff. Let’s take a look.

Once the lore of science fiction, technology that understands human speech now includes apps that translate conversation as it happens and a virtual assistant who can give you numbers to call for pizza.

Those breakthroughs and a peek at future voice recognition are the subject of a fascinating read this week. Writer Allison Linn spent time with Microsoft researchers to see how data availability, computing power and machine learning are making computers so smart that they may one day understand what you’re saying as well as any human can.

“When machine learning works at its best, you really don’t see the effort. It’s just so natural. You see the result,” said Harry Shum, executive vice president in charge of Microsoft’s Technology and Research group.


Microsoft researchers also offered up this week 16 predictions for 2016, ranging in topics from AI to data science to cryptography. For Chris Bishop, managing director of Microsoft Research in Cambridge, the United Kingdom, next year’s key technology breakthrough will be “the emergence of new silicon architectures that are turned to intensive workloads of machine learning.”

For Doug Burger, director of Hardware, Devices and Experiences, Microsoft Research NExT, the big tech advance of 2016 will be “successful and large-scale inclusion of specialized compute acceleration in the cloud.”

Meanwhile in Barcelona, Microsoft hosted Convergence EMEA, the company’s annual Europe-based conference for business and IT leaders. The four-day event unveiled innovations to help businesses transform, including new communications capabilities in Office 365 and Skype for Business.

Microsoft also announced Power BI integration with Cortana and a “new era of intelligent customer engagement” with the worldwide availability of Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2016.

“As organizations strive to keep up with the pace of change, they are looking to technology to drive digital transformation,” wrote Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer Chris Capossela. “Our message this week is simple – Microsoft is here to help.”


Microsoft amped up Giving Tuesday, with a real-time look at the outpouring of generosity during the worldwide movement. The company worked with 92nd Street Y (92Y), the nonprofit cultural and community center that created Giving Tuesday, and Blackbaud, which processed most of the day’s donations, to turn vast amounts of data into a real-time dashboard tracking the day’s momentum.

“Having Microsoft come in gives the day a richness and a depth that we wouldn’t otherwise have,” said Asha Curran, director of 92Y’s Center for Innovation and Social Impact.

The visual dashboard allowed the team to build on insight in real time, instead of waiting to evaluate their efforts after the event, said John Doyle, director of product marketing at Microsoft.

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Also this week, the Microsoft HoloLens team announced that it’s partnering with Autodesk Fusion 360 on a solution to change the way industrial designers, mechanical engineers and other product developers work together.

“With HoloLens we can remove many of the barriers that exist today; accelerating product iteration, providing more intuitive cross-team communication and setting new standards in collaboration,” wrote Ben Sugden, studio manager of Microsoft HoloLens.

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If you don’t feel like time is always on your side, check out the new FindTime app from the Microsoft Garage. The Outlook add-in helps you schedule meetings faster with people outside your company, so you can be more productive and spend less time doing the tedious job of figuring out when everyone’s available.

“We think scheduling a time can be more collaborative – and with FindTime, it feels almost magical,” said Vivek Garg, a developer for Microsoft’s Team SIX and tech lead who helped create FindTime.


The end of the year is indeed nigh, which means it’s time for a little hindsight. On Wednesday, Bing featured the top searched stories and celebrities of 2015, out of the billions of searches on Bing this year. The perspective gave us a unique look at the moments that shaped us the year, from the U.S. Women’s FIFA World Cup victory to Caitlyn Jenner’s iconic “Vanity Fair” cover.

Finally this week, on the Microsoft Instagram channel, we watched Microsoft employees from around the country spread holiday cheer in New York City. Joined by a local children’s choir, they shared a message of peace and harmony with a neighbor down the street.

Thanks for reading and see you next week!

Vanessa Ho
Microsoft News Center Staff

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