As it’s January, you’re probably focused on two things: keeping your New Year’s Resolutions, and wondering what the next 12 months will bring.
This month is a good time to look forward. January is the namesake of Janus (Roman god of transitions), whose two faces look ahead to the future while simultaneously reflecting on the past.
In that spirit, before we share our own 2017 predictions, we would like to reflect on a few anniversaries taking place this year: 75 years ago, doctors first successfully treated a patient with penicillin; 50 years ago, the world’s first ATM was installed (in London); 20 years ago, RAF pilot Andy Green drove ThrustSSC to break the sound barrier on land for the first time; and five years ago, the last UK manufactured typewriter was built. These seminal moments in medicine, commerce, engineering and communication serve as a backdrop to the current wave of digital technology that is fundamentally transforming nearly every part of industry and society.
To help make sense of where this digital transformation will take us in 2017, we spoke to a number of Microsoft’s leaders in the UK about everything from gaming to regulatory policy. Over the course of this week, we’ll share some of their insights on the impact digital transformation is having right now, and will have over the coming 12 months. First up, it’s the service economy and machine learning. Enjoy!
Cloud will be the catalyst for the new service economy
Mark Bedford, Senior Director for Solution Sales
The heart of all business is data; as we increase the amount of data we record we have a fantastic opportunity to gain real insight from it in areas we can’t imagine today. 2017 will be a tipping point. Cloud will be the catalyst to enable agile and elastic utilisation of the data, combining structured and unstructured as well as customer and third-party data sources, which will deliver actionable insight across the business. As we are seeing more companies moving from a pure play product or commodity play (such as utilities companies) to more service centric annuity businesses the use of data at scale and speed only the Cloud can deliver will be their future differentiator.
We have already seen this with the likes of Rolls-Royce, where you no longer buy a jet engine but buy a service for that engines air time. By using data insight services of the engine IOT services as well as the data that is collected from the aircraft and details of flight path, speed and many more variables, Rolls-Royce can maximise air time, minimise downtime and deliver optimisation opportunities for such things as fuel usage to drive to a different value-based engagement with their customers.
As more commoditisation occurs with a race to the bottom on price, rather than delivered value, businesses will need to determine what they can bring to the market through new service and value propositions that leverage their legacy, are enabled through data insight and delivered in a scalable and flexible environment that can be changed as quickly as their business direction and customer needs change. Only the agility, hyper scale and consumption-based commercials of Cloud enable this; by embracing Cloud to utilise data at scale businesses have the opportunity to quickly and cost effectively determine whether their strategies can work and if not try again with a fail fast approach to IT utilisation that does not have the legacy cost that has always inhibited innovation.
Artificial intelligence: a human/machine partnership
Christopher Bishop, Laboratory Director, Microsoft Research Cambridge
Despite the Hollywood trope of sentient killer robots, the interaction between humans and artificial intelligence in the near future will be much more harmonious and productive in 2017. From an AI development perspective, we’ll continue to see significant advances in the underlying algorithms: deep learning, reinforcement learning, unsupervised learning, probabilistic inference, etc. We’ll also see substantially increased investment from the major digital technology providers in AI research. But for end users – businesses and consumers – 2017 will see AI increasing making its way from niche experimental projects to industry and the home.
We’ll start to see machine learning influencing a broader range of roles. For example, AI technology will provide increasingly powerful tools to support decision making. Although senior level executives may be highly skilled in problem solving, negotiating, and qualitative judgement, machines are better at processing, combining, and analysing data at scale. In a human/machine partnership, AI will be able to distil and present the pertinent insights to these executives to empower them to make better decisions or even to trigger automated action within their organisation.
Another area of AI that I’m particularly excited about this year is its use in speech recognition and natural language processing, including translation. We’ve seen some recent breakthroughs in deep learning that have significantly reduced the error rates of speech recognition, and for the first time we’ve reached human-level accuracy in transcribing speech. This will allow us to interface with our devices and systems in new ways such as allowing more complex natural language queries and multi-language, real-time translation. Imagine the business benefit of being able to bring together a set of people who speak different languages and have them all communicate simultaneously with real-time translation. These ideas aren’t exactly new: Captain Picard communicates in real time with alien species through a universal translator. In 2017, however, we’ll see a lot more of this technology move out of the realm of Hollywood vision into the real world.
Tomorrow, Harvey Eagle from Xbox and Lee Schuneman from Lift London will look at the apps and games we’ll use in 2017.