TechQuarters logo

Artificial Intelligence has been in the tech headlines consistently for the last year. How is Microsoft’s own work driving AI developments?

There is no way of denying that AI is the hottest topic in technology and business nowadays. Artificial intelligence is currently experience a major boom in advancement; and the potential for it to accelerate and enhance various areas of business is naturally a popular and frequent conversation. As Microsoft Solutions Partners, we need to keep an eye on the developments Microsoft are working on – and there are a number of very interesting developments happening in the AI sphere.

From acquisitions and partnerships, to proprietary work, Microsoft are really pushing the envelop with the development and application of AI – so, what developments have Microsoft made recently that are worth taking note of?

Nuance Acquisition

Early last year, Microsoft successfully acquire Nuance. For those who are not aware, Nuance is the company that was responsible for the back-end development of Siri – the virtual assistant that is present in all modern Apple products. This was a huge deal, as it brought best-in-class ambient intelligence, a highly developed conversational AI model, into Microsoft’s wheelhouse (not to mention Nuance’s 20+ years’ experience in the field of speech recognition). Microsoft’s hope is that the combination of Nuance’s experience in AI, paired with Microsoft’s worldwide cloud environments will drive their innovations to new heights.

Extension of OpenAI Partnership

OpenAI have been making headlines for a while now, thanks to their conversational AI, ChatGPT, which has trended frequently across social media platforms and news outlets.

In 2019, Microsoft made headlines themselves when they provided a $1 billion investment to OpenAI LP. In January of this year, they renewed their commitment by providing a whopping $10 billion multi-year investment. According to Microsoft, this is the third phase of their partnership with OpenAI. The goal of OpenAI (and of Microsoft) is to promote the responsible development of AI that make, in their own words, a ‘transformative impact’ on personal computing, the internet, mobile devices, and cloud computing.

Project Brainwave

Microsoft have also been working extensively on specialised hardware for AI calculations. The project, known as Project Brainwave, is being undertaken with the support of Intel – who have provided a special type of computer chip known as a field programmable gate array (FPGA for short). The FPGA chip promises to make accelerate the speed of real-time AI calculations at a cost that is both competitive and accessible. The application of Project Brainwave was in-part inspired by the need for faster real-time AI decisions for quality control in manufacturing; but Microsoft are also hoping to integrate this new technology with Azure to accelerate their AI services.

Expanding Azure AI for Developers

Yet another recent development Microsoft have announced is their intention to make AI available for all developers through Microsoft Azure AI services. In Microsoft’s own words, an era of intelligent cloud and intelligent edge is emerging, and this serves as an excellent opportunity to provide developers with the tools, resources, and mission to develop intelligent technology that benefits everyone.

Some examples of how Microsoft are putting more power into the hands of developers includes their open sourcing of Azure IoT Edge Runtime, and the creation of a toolkit for vision AI that will help developers work on camera-based IoT solutions. Microsoft also announced a number of speech and audio processing developments  including Speech Devices SDK, and a unified Speech service in Azure Cognitive Services.

Azure Cognitive Services

Microsoft also recently announced a number of developments to their Azure Cognitive Services (ACS). ACS is a series of cloud AI services that enable businesses with little or no AI/data science knowledge to incorporate AI into their services – in this way, it is similar to low- and no-code development.  ACS supports the inclusion of speech, language and search AI into custom applications. The new developments of ACS will add a unified speech service – this would mean organisations have access to a wide range of capabilities, from custom voice recognition, to cutting edge text-to-speech capabilities. Other new capabilities being added include advancements to the vision AI for object identification, and information extraction for images.