Artificial intelligence takes on machine reading, Christmas carols and eye disease – Weekend Reading: Dec. 30 edition

| Susanna Ray

Artificial intelligence (AI) made incredible strides in 2016, and the growth appears set to accelerate as we enter the New Year.

A team of Microsoft researchers has released a dataset of 100,000 questions and answers that other AI researchers can use – for free – in their quest to create systems that can read and answer questions as well as a human. The MS MARCO dataset is based on anonymized real-world data from Bing and Cortana queries and is part of an attempt to spur the breakthroughs in machine reading that are already happening in image and speech recognition.

The move is also aimed at facilitating advances toward “artificial general intelligence,” or machines that can think like humans – and can read and understand a document as well as a person.

Rangan Majumder, partner group program manager with Microsoft’s Bing search engine division.
Rangan Majumder, partner group program manager with Microsoft’s Bing search engine division.

Meanwhile, AI helped a musician in Norway sing a new tune for the holidays this year: a Christmas carol that was created by Microsoft’s AI technology.

Thomas Holm, a contestant on Norway’s popular musical talent show “The Voice,” performed the computer-written “Joyful Time in the City,” whose melody and lyrics were written through detailed AI analysis over two weeks of more than 50 classic Christmas carols. Machine learning tools identified patterns in the tunes and used those to predict what should come next, for a final result that mixes Christmas songs from decades past and popular modern ones.

The piece still needed a human touch, though – Holm put the final creative refinements on the lyrics, together with Turbonegro drummer, Tommy “Manboy” Akerholdt.

“I’m not afraid that AI will take over music,” Holm said. “It could be a great band member, though.”

YouTube Video

In the business world, conversational bots built on cloud-based AI are enabling new frontiers in customer intimacy, simplifying access to information and helping businesses and consumers make more informed decisions.

The transformation of conversational computing is just beginning in business, as bots are connected to corporate databases and are starting to simplify tasks through conversational actions. A recently announced Microsoft feature will allow companies to turn their websites’ FAQ sections into chat bots that can speak different languages, thanks to Microsoft Translator.

AI also is being used to help eliminate blindness that can be avoided, through work done by Microsoft India in collaboration with the L V Prasad Eye Institute in Hyderabad, India. The Microsoft Intelligent Network for Eyecare (MINE) is a global consortium of commercial, research and academic institutions working to use artificial intelligence to combat certain eye diseases and to scale delivery of eyecare services worldwide.

Get a Windows 10 device as a holiday gift this year? Get the most out of it through the new “Getting started” collection that brings together apps chosen specifically to get you up to speed, such as Dropbox for storing and sharing your holiday photos and The Weather Channel (Free) for delivering ultra-local weather forecasts. The Pandora and Netflix apps and more are all available in the Windows Store’s “Getting started” collection.

Windows 10 is packed full of features to make sure you’re more productive and have more fun in the New Year. Check out the tips for getting started so you can make the most of your new PC.

And if you got a device in your stocking but nothing to go with it, there’s still time to treat yourself with great deals in the Windows Store, including up to 30 percent off the hottest games and discounts on apps, software, music and movies. You can also get a free gift with the purchase of a new Xbox One or Xbox One S console, through Dec. 31.


College football fans are enjoying the most wonderful time of the year this week with a bonanza of playoff and bowl games, and with Sling TV, they won’t miss any of the action. The Orange Bowl, Peach Bowl and Rose Bowl can all be seen this weekend on ESPN with this app. Try it out for free for two weeks through Jan. 11.

And “Final Fantasy XV” fans can double their fun with two holiday packs released last week, along with access to the New Game+ mode that lets you carry all your gear, abilities and Ascension tree through the game again after you’ve beaten it.


Be sure to check back next Friday for another edition of Weekend Reading. We’ll see you next year!

Posted by Susanna Ray

Microsoft News Center Staff

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