“Artificial Intelligence (AI) brings great opportunity, but also great responsibility,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said during an event in London on Tuesday.
“Every walk of life is being fundamentally shaped by digital technology. It’s happening in our homes, in our work, in our places of entertainment – and in every industry from precision agriculture to precision medicine. At Microsoft, we want to build trust, not just at a technology level, but at a business model level, in a world where every business is a digital business.”
AI is one of Microsoft’s key priorities, as people and businesses increasingly look to intelligent systems to help them in the home and at work. At its Build developers conference in Seattle earlier this month, the company unveiled a series of new and updated tools that help developers infuse AI into their applications. These include AI related to vision, speech, language, knowledge and search, as well as hardware architecture designed to accelerate real-time AI calculations.
Nadella described how Microsoft is “building out an Intelligent Cloud and Intelligent Edge platform to help us navigate and take advantage of the new opportunity ahead of us, as the world becomes a computer.”
On Tuesday in London, Nadella showcased work being done in the area of conversational AI, bolstered by the recent acquisition of Semantic Machines, a company using the power of machine learning to enable users to discover, access and interact with information and services in a much more natural way.
Nadella’s visit to the UK comes in the wake of the House of Lords Select Committee on AI’s recently released report that hailed the UK as a leader in AI. It concluded that the country has a “unique opportunity” to shape the future of the technology positively, for the public’s benefit, and to lead the international community in AI’s ethical development.
Citing Microsoft’s role in the development of the report, Nadella said: “We’re at that stage with AI where the choices we make need to be grounded in principles and ethics – that’s the best way to ensure a future we all want.”
Real World AI
The event at which Nadella was speaking also featured several announcements about how Microsoft – alongside both customers and partners – is advancing AI solutions across both the commercial and public sector spaces. For instance, during the event the company announced that together with Accenture and Avanade, Microsoft is also creating joint AI solutions. Combining Accenture’s Applied Intelligence group and Microsoft’s innovation is enabling AI solutions to be brought to customers globally in an industry-specific approach that is both scalable and secure.
At the same time, the company showcased solutions from Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH), which is embracing AI to improve patient healthcare and consumer goods firm Unilever, which is reimagining its HR function. The event also featured a panel discussion that included Transport for London, Hiscox and Callcredit discussing their companies’ progress so far with AI.
Great Ormond Street Hospital
The children’s hospital GOSH, which receives more than 250,000 outpatient visits and over 40,000 inpatient visits a year, has formed a partnership with Microsoft that will see the technology company support research, build and evaluation of AI in healthcare.
“This powerful partnership between GOSH, University College London’s Computer Science department and Microsoft is a potential game-changer for healthcare,” said Neil Sebire, Professor of Pathology and Chief Research Information Officer at GOSH.
“It brings together academic clinical and computer science expertise, to be leveraged by the capabilities of Microsoft, with the singular aim of improving healthcare for children. Microsoft’s AI tools, platforms and emphasis on security and ethics, will empower GOSH to help even more children to fulfil their potential.
“What we want, as doctors, is to be able to do things in the future that we cannot do now – to augment our capabilities. We also need to be able to bring together data from multiple places to improve health outcomes for patients. By capturing all our clinical data in one place, and implementing a cloud based dedicated research platform that sits on Azure, we can take data from our EPR and other systems, and under our own governance, deidentify and audit it.
We don’t want to be inventing technology, we want to be leveraging it and we don’t want to give our data to someone else to do the analysis. We want tools to apply to our data that stay within our control.”
GOSH also announced that together with Microsoft, it is building the whole of its hospital in Minecraft, giving patients who come from all over the world, and who may be anxious, a chance to explore and see the ward they will be staying on.
Kelly Limonte, Senior Healthcare Industry Manager at Microsoft, said: “AI is a very powerful tool. When implemented into the correct solution it can provide time, a precious commodity in the NHS. AI can also be used to change the experience of time, by freeing doctors from routine tasks, so they can improve the patient experience. This is what we have tried to demonstrate for the launch of this partnership.”
Unilever, meanwhile, revealed it was working with Microsoft to build an Azure data lake – a huge amount of unstructured data – and give employees digital assistants. This will allow the maker of Dove, Lipton and Surf to integrate AI into its business and give staff access to more data to meet customer needs.
Jane Moran, CIO of Unilever said: “A key element of our technology strategy is around platforms and it’s those platforms that we’re building out that will help us to develop into a data driven organisation with AI infused services. This enables us to put data back in the hands of our employees, to the benefit of our customers and our consumers.”
Moran described how the Microsoft technology Unilever is employing is improving the accuracy of its forecasting, as well as helping to build trust in the data – through making the data lineage visible – so that employees more readily use the analytics provided.
She explained: “We’ve seen improvements with lead inventory metrics and we can even spot slow moving goods before they become slow moving. Data is at the heart of what we do, and siloed data sources make it hard to access our data. These tools help remove those siloes and democratise the data.”
160,000 Unilever employees are now also benefiting from Microsoft chatbot Unabot. This self-service, natural language based digital assistant is supporting the large, geographically-dispersed workforce, responding to staff queries using conversational AI.
AI brings change, the change starts now and it’s up to all of us to ensure that AI is used as a force for good. As we make progress with our AI capabilities, at Microsoft we are exploring more and more ways to use them in ways that benefit our society. The UK is where we first got started with some of our AI for Accessibility work and now have our Soundscape and Seeing AI projects. Projects like these are helping the one-billion-plus people in the world with disabilities to fully participate in our economies.
Microsoft, together with its customers and partners, is thinking deeply about how organisations can harness the power of AI for good and to drive effective business outcomes, from improved customer service to better forecasting.