Flash to the future: Major breakthrough in speech recognition, Bing and Azure use an AI supercomputer in the cloud — Weekend Reading: Oct. 21 edition

| Athima Chansanchai

In this edition of Weekend Reading, we have stories on a historic milestone in speech recognition, an AI supercomputer in the cloud and significant advancements for the Government Cloud.

Microsoft has made a major breakthrough in speech recognition, creating a technology that understands a conversation as well as a person does. In a paper published Monday, a team of researchers and engineers in Microsoft Artificial Intelligence and Research reported a speech recognition system that makes the same or fewer errors than professional transcriptionists.  The researchers reported a word error rate (WER) of 5.9 percent, down from the 6.3 percent WER the team reported just last month. The 5.9 percent error rate is about equal to that of people who were asked to transcribe the same conversation, and it’s the lowest ever recorded against the industry standard Switchboard speech recognition task.

computer chip
A reprogrammable computer chip called a field programmable gate array, or FPGA

A team of Microsoft engineers and researchers, working together, have created a system that uses a reprogrammable computer chip called a field programmable gate array, or FPGA, to accelerate Bing and Azure. Utilizing the FPGA chips, they can write their algorithms directly onto the hardware they are using, instead of using potentially less efficient software as the middle man. What’s more, an FPGA can be reprogrammed at a moment’s notice to respond to new advances in artificial intelligence or meet another type of unexpected need in a datacenter. Head over to Next at Microsoft to read the full story.

Laptop computer and paperwork on table, businessmen shaking hands in background, differential focus

Governments across the United States – from the biggest federal agencies to the smallest towns – are turning to the cloud to be more productive and collaborative, and to better harness exponentially growing amounts of data that helps them better support the citizens they serve. Posts on several Microsoft blogs show that no major cloud provider is as committed to supporting the needs of government agencies as Microsoft, which has announced significant advancements for its Government Cloud. These include: Department of Defense-specific versions of Office 365 and Azure, which are built from the ground up to meet DoD Impact Level 5 controls, as well as additional Azure Government regions in the southwest and south central U.S. Head over to the Microsoft in Government blog, the Microsoft Azure blog and Office Blogs to find out more.

Matt Flynn © 2015 Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.
Matt Flynn © 2015 Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.

From digital pens that let visitors virtually take collections home with them to artificial intelligence that links modern photographs with historic paintings, the world’s cultural institutions are democratizing technology to help them stay relevant in a connected world. Traditionally, museums have had a conservative mission, charged with preserving humanity’s greatest treasures in order to pass them on to the next generation. The digital age is altering that focus, as institutions look for new ways to appeal to modern lifestyles. To read the full story about how museums are evolving with technology, visit the Transform blog.

YouTube Video

And in the games and apps space, we got a peek at “Halo Wars 2,” which takes place 30 years after the crew of the UNSC Spirit of Fire settled in for a long cryosleep in “Halo Wars.” You can also pre-order “Dead Rising 4: Deluxe Edition,” check out an update to Viber, return to Underland with “Alice Through the Looking Glass” in the Windows Store and pre-register to get on the list for “Asphalt Xtreme,” a new spinoff to “Asphalt 8.”


This week on the Microsoft Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages, we highlighted Alberto Cairo, a pioneer in graphic data. He’s dedicated his career to visual journalism and travels the world bringing stories to life through interactive visualizations. By relying on tools such as Microsoft’s Power BI, he is able to transform vast amounts of data into rich, meaningful visuals for companies, brands and publishers to utilize.

That’s it for our round-up. See you next Friday for another Weekend Reading!

Posted by Athima Chansanchai
Microsoft News Center Staff