It’s now been a year since Microsoft formed its new AI and Research Group, which is led by computer vision and computer graphics expert Harry Shum. After a year of various acquisitions and new hires, this group has grown from 5,000 employees to around 8,000, a 60% growth that definitely tells something about Microsoft’s AI ambitions.
“We truly believe AI is this disruptive force, even though it’s not new,” said Harry Shum in an interview with GeekWire. “The recent progress is just enormous. We certainly have seen that through our own products and engagement with customers. We also feel we have a very strong point of view about how we take AI to the next step.”
Despite Shum’s enthusiasm, Microsoft is still facing tough competition from Apple, Google, and Amazon. As a matter of fact, Microsoft recently partnered with the online retailer to let Cortana and Alexa speak to each other, which was probably a necessary move to make Cortana stay relevant with consumers.
In addition to the digital assistant, Microsoft’s AI efforts can be seen in many other products including Skype bots (still a work in progress) or intelligent services for Office apps such as Outlook Focused Inbox or Powerpoint Designer. With Microsoft Cognitive Services, Microsoft is also on a journey to “democratize AI”, allowing developers to leverage its research to make their apps more intelligent. But as Shum acknowledged, “we think we’re still early in terms of the right user experience. I think the next couple of years will be very important for us,” he added.