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We want to pursue democratizing AI like we pursued democratizing access to information. ~Satya Nadella

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Earlier this year, Google's DeepMind artificial brain conquered a world-class champion at the game of Go — a feat that even amazed Elon Musk — and might well take on "StarCraft," too.

But Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella is less impressed, at least judging from comments he made at Monday's Microsoft Ignite event in Atlanta. Instead of playing games, Nadella says, Microsoft is focused on putting artificial intelligence into every app, everywhere. 

"We are not pursuing AI to beat humans at games. We are pursuing AI so that we can empower every person and every institution that people build with tools of AI so that they can go on to solve the most pressing problems of our society and our economy," Nadella says.

As Nadella indicates here, Microsoft has made significant investments in artificial intelligence, which manifests itself in ways large and small. Nadella revealed Monday that Cortana, the digital personal assistant that comes with Windows 10, has 133 million monthly users. 

Microsoft is also using artificial intelligence in more behind-the-scenes ways, including helping power up the all-important "red squigglies" of spellcheck with new features that can help make you a better writer and communicator.

"I think I would be unemployable, but for the red squiggly," Nadella quips.

The next big step, Nadella says, is taking everything Microsoft has learned about artificial intelligence and making it available to software developers so they can apply the same ability to make sense of huge amounts of information within their own apps. The internet has been great for spreading information, but human attention is still a limited resource, Nadella says, and artificial intelligence can help us sift and sort what's most important.

"We want to pursue democratizing AI like we pursued democratizing access to information," Nadella says.

To that end, Nadella hyped Cortana's so-called "Cognitive APIs," which help developers build Cortana-powered intelligence into their applications.

This week Microsoft doubled down on AI with a reorg:

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella's new big idea is the "democratization of artificial intelligence," as in the concept that everybody should have access to AI and AI-powered technology.

But to get there, it's meant taking a lot of Microsoft's considerable investments in academic AI science, and turning them into real products that people can actually use, like Skype Translate and Windows Hello.

To accelerate that unification of research and product, Microsoft has announced the formation of the new AI and Research Group — a new organization within Microsoft that combines the Microsoft Research teams with the teams responsible for the Cortana digital assistant, the Bing search engine, and other AI-adjacent products.

Leading the new Microsoft AI and Research Group and it's now-5,000-strong team is Harry Shum, previously the head of Microsoft Research, and one of Nadella's direct reports. 


An intriguing part of the reorg:

A new group, Microsoft Research NExT, was brought into the world in early 2015 to fast-track their research into products like Windows Hello facial recognition and Skype Translate.

The idea is that Microsoft Research's biggest brains get the chance to give a short lecture with no point other than to reassure the would-be buyer that "the future is in good hands," says Microsoft Research Chief Product Officer Vikram Dendi. The researcher would give their spiel and turn the floor back over to the salespeople.


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