AI implemented by Pact Group and University of Canberra
SYDNEY – November 16, 2017 – Microsoft is today releasing a series of artificial intelligence (AI) tools and solutions designed to help infuse every enterprise with intelligence and insight, and amplify human ingenuity.
Microsoft also announced Australian organisations which are leading the AI charge, include packaging giant Pact Group and the University of Canberra which are deploying intelligent solutions to boost operational efficiency, customer and student experience, and in Pact’s case, workplace safety.
Steve Clayton, General Manager, Microsoft AI, said that the company was experiencing an “explosion of interest in AI and its potential” from Australian enterprises which seemed to confirm Gartner’s prediction  that by 2020 AI technologies would be pervasive in almost every new product and service.
New AI tools inject intelligence
In addition, Microsoft announced Visual Studio Tools for AI for AI developers and data scientists. The new Visual Studio Tools for AI combines the ease of use and power of Visual Studio’s capabilities such as debugging and rich editing, with the support of deep learning frameworks such as Microsoft Cognitive Toolkit, Tensorflow and Caffe.
Breakthrough cloud and AI capabilities for Azure IoT Edge which enable developers to build and test container-based modules using C, Java, .NET, Node.js and Python, and simplify the deployment and management of workloads and machine learning models at the edge, are also now generally available.
According to Clayton, “AI is about amplifying human ingenuity through intelligent technology that will reason with, understand and interact with people and, together with people, help us solve some of society’s most fundamental challenges.”
Local users seize AI advantage
Australian enterprises are embracing AI sooner than predicted. Microsoft today announced that the University of Canberra has developed the Lucy and Bruce chatbots to support students and university employees with intelligent insights and advice to streamline support services. The chatbots have been developed using Microsoft Bot Framework and Microsoft Cognitive Services Language Understanding Intelligent Service (LUIS).
Microsoft and Pact Group have also collaborated on a proof-of-concept solution to enhance workplace safety. Using Microsoft Cognitive Services Computer Vision for facial and objection recognition, the Workroom Kiosk Demo can identify individual employees in a workshop environment, detect if the correct safety equipment is being worn and monitor workplace behaviour based on an understanding of the tasks and tools the individual is authorised to perform. Team leaders are automatically alerted to potential issues.
AI apps create opportunity
Other AI solutions released in Australia today include multiple innovations in Microsoft Translator with expanded use of neural networks technologies to improve both text and speech translations in all of Microsoft Translator’s supported products from developer centric API, to apps, to conversation and presentation translation features.
For people learning Chinese, Microsoft is aiming to fill that void with the release of new smartphone app from Microsoft Research Asia that can act as an always available, AI based language learning assistant.
According to Clayton there are three forces that is accelerating AI development and deployment. “That’s big compute, powerful algorithms, and the massive amount of data fuelling powerful AI applications.”
Microsoft has been working in the field of AI for almost three decades and last year created the AI & Research Group which now numbers more than 8,000 computer scientists, researchers and engineers.
The output of the group combined with; “The power and scale of Azure which ensures the big compute foundations for AI, and Microsoft Graph which delivers the one of the broadest collection of data insights into world and workplace knowledge, are promising huge impact for organisations and individuals,” said Clayton.
Microsoft today also announced that its free app, Seeing AI, designed to support blind and low vision people by narrating the world around them, is now available in Australia. Seeing AI is an ongoing research project.
Using Microsoft AI technologies and the camera on the iPhone, Seeing AI can read documents, recognise people’s faces and provide a description of their appearance, identify a product using its barcode, and recognise and describe images.
For the estimated 384,000 Australians  who are blind or have low vision Seeing AI is a “beautifully simple app that describes people, things and text,” said Jenny Lay-Flurrie, Chief Accessibility Officer, Microsoft.
“We’ve providing computers with the intelligent capabilities to see, hear, talk and understand natural ways of communication,” she said. “This has profound implications for enterprise technology customers but critically also allows us to develop tools that promote inclusivity and allow more people to benefit from digital innovation,” said Lay-Flurrie during a visit to Australia.
Foundational to Microsoft’s advances in AI are a number of breakthroughs in the core elements of AI—computer vision, speech recognition and natural language understanding. Microsoft has received accolades through developing AI technologies that can recognise speech with an error rate of just 5.1 percent, achieved two months ago – and identify images with an error rate of only 3.5 percent. Microsoft is also currently leading a competition run by Stanford University called the SQuAD dataset that uses information from Wikipedia to test how well AI systems can answer questions about text passages— this fuels results in areas like Bing search and chatbot responses.
This means that using AI’s deep learning, computers can recognise words in a conversation on par with a person, deliver relevant answers to very specific questions and provide real-time translation.
It also means that computers on a factory floor can distinguish between a fabricated part and a human arm, or that an autonomous vehicle can tell the difference between a bouncing ball and a toddler skipping across a street.
Infusing intelligence across the economy
According to Clayton; “Our job is to democratise AI so every company can be an AI company. AI is all part of the stack. It is infrastructure – you should have whatever GPU compute you want, so you can build your own intelligence. It’s a set of APIs. If you want speech recognition, you want image recognition and text understanding.
“It’s about applications with built-in AI. Every part of what we do will be AI. But, more importantly, every company that works to build something of their own will incorporate AI. That’s what I mean by democratising AI. AI is perhaps the most transformative thing that’s ever happened.”
Clayton, added; “We believe AI will complement rather than replace human endeavour in all fields. We encourage business leaders to replace the labour-saving and automation mindset with a maker and creation mindset – that’s what we are seeing with AI adoption at the University of Canberra and Pact. AI is augmenting rather than diminishing us.”
Clayton said that was also the thinking behind Microsoft’s AI for Earth initiative that offers non-government organisations and other groups access to AI tools, services and technical support to enable them to more efficiently and effectively tackle issues related to water, agriculture, climate change and biodiversity.
Microsoft is the leading platform and productivity company for the mobile-first, cloud-first world, and its mission is to empower every person and every organisation on the planet to achieve more.