The recent news of Microsoft’s massive increase in headcount for its AI division indicates the company’s dedication to the technology that it believes will shape the future. The business unit was launched by CEO Satya Nadella a year ago to position the company for what he saw as a “paradigm shift in computing” of which he wanted Microsoft to be on the forefront.
“Microsoft is dedicated to democratizing AI for every person and organization, making it more accessible and valuable to everyone and ultimately enabling new ways to solve some of society’s toughest challenges,” the company wrote in an announcement at the time.
Having grown from 5,000 to over 8,000 employees, the AI and Research group now accounts for roughly 7 percent of the Seattle-based giant’s total workforce. So what is all that talent working on? What does Microsoft have to show for all this investment?
For starters, the investment goes far beyond human capital. Microsoft’s $26 billion acquisition of LinkedIn last year undoubtedly played a big role in the company building out its AI capabilities. An initial run of joint projects is underway, making it clear this merger aims to significantly reshape the way technology is used in the workplace, GeekWire’s Nat Levy reports:
Office 365 will include a new “profile card” that can display LinkedIn information. For example, interviewers using Outlook would be able to easily access LinkedIn profiles of job seekers. This integration, the first between Office 365 and LinkedIn since the acquisition, is designed to make it easier for people to search for others inside their organizations.
Microsoft will also be connecting LinkedIn to its Dynamic sales and recruiting platforms, where users will be able to send LinkedIn InMail and messages and obtain background information on a potential sales or recruiting prospect from their profiles. They are also working on modular apps for the platform, the first two of which will be focused on recruiting and onboarding. Dynamics 365 will also have a virtual assistant for customer service powered by AI, which will pull information from user manuals and other documents in response to open-ended questions from customers. Macy’s and Hewlett-Packard have already started using it.
There will be a number of AI tools available on the Azure Machine Learning tool suite, including one for data scientists called Pendleton that helps with data collection, preparation, cleaning, and analysis. Also on the AML workbench, developers will be able to build their own machine learning tools using Visual Studio Code Tools for AI.
Lastly, Microsoft also announced two updates to its Cognitive Services: cloud-hosted APIs that allow developers to easily add AI capabilities to their applications and products. First, Text Analytics is being released for general use with “functions such as language detection, key phrase extraction and sentiment analysis,” per the company release. They will also release a Bing Custom Search offering so businesses can create “smart” search engines to meet their specific needs. Finally, the company has also revealed plans for AI to be part of a major update to its Hololens Headset offering.
One of Nadella’s main objectives upon taking over the CEO position from Steve Ballmer in 2014 was figuring out how the company could shed its stale reputation. Accelerating the use of AI in the workplace is looking more and more like a primary component of that strategy.