Microsoft Is Creating an AI Research Hub


By: R. Scott Raynovich

At an event in London yesterday, Microsoft announced the creation of Microsoft Research AI, a unit within its Microsoft Research division that will focus on how to plug Artificial Intelligence (AI) into its software and work on the most challenging AI problems.

This is an evolution of Microsoft's push into AI. In 2016, Microsoft announced the creation of Microsoft AI and Research, a group that included 7,500 computer scientists, researchers, and engineers from the company's research labs and product groups such as Bing, Cortana, and Azure Machine Learning. Research AI will be more focused with a goal to "tackle the hardest problems in AI and accelerate the integration of the latest AI advances into products and services that benefit customers and society,” according to a Microsoft blog post.

Some of the technology research will involve combining AI with machine learning and natural language processing. The AI unit will include 100 scientists and engineers, within Microsoft's larger research organization.

Harry Shum, executive vice president for Microsoft's AI and Research Group, wrote a blog about the effort. He says that we are living in the "golden age of AI advances."

One of the areas that Shum highlights in the blog is machine reading. "It's an emerging field that has incredible potential for situations such helping a doctor quickly find important information amid thousands of documents, saving time for higher-value and potentially life-saving work," he writes.

The announcement and surrounding publicity it has generated is a sound move for Microsoft on the strategic and marketing level, as the AI arms race heats up. IBM has taken Watson from a chess-playing program to an AI franchise. Google made a big play in AI when it acquired UK-based AI specialist Deep Mind in 2014. Now Microsoft is looking to boost its AI credentials.