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Microsoft Europe’s 10 biggest stories of 2019

This year has been incredibly busy for Microsoft in Europe. We’ve launched new products, worked with customers and partners to deliver cutting-edge technology solutions, and worked towards our mission of helping every person and organisation achieve more.

We’ve rounded up ten of the biggest stories from the past year below, with the option to click on through to each one to read them in full. Thanks for reading, and have a Happy New Year!

Meet the world’s first AI-created whisky

Since these early beginnings, whisky production has spread to all corners of the globe. From Ireland and Scotland, to Japan, the US, Australia and more, this ancient art has traversed cultures and boundaries, with each distillery infusing their unique soul into each blend.

Sweden-based Mackmyra Whisky is one such distillery. Founded in 1999 after eight friends decided to create their own whisky, it has since won several international awards, and its Master Blender has recently been inducted into Whisky Magazine’s hall of fame. The distillery’s ambitions, however, reach much further.

Together with Finnish tech company Fourkind and Microsoft, Mackmyra is creating the world’s first whisky developed with artificial intelligence (AI). In an industry synonymous with deep-rooted tradition, human expertise and craftsmanship, what happens when 1,000-year-old techniques meet advanced 21st century technology?

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Building for the future: Microsoft’s new Swedish datacentres have sustainability firmly in mind

Viewed as a highly sustainable country, Sweden has made strong commitments to reduce environmental impact and the government is pursuing a progressive Fossil Free Sweden initiative. Microsoft is similarly committed to sustainability, and with the development of new world-class datacentres in Sweden, intends to create some of their most advanced and sustainable to date based on their design, power from 100 percent renewable energy sources, and plans for zero-waste operations.

Microsoft has operated as a carbon neutral company since 2012 and is continuously increasing the amount of energy the company uses from renewable sources – wind, solar, and hydropower. Earlier this year, Microsoft President Brad Smith confirmed that, by the end of this year, the company will achieve its target of powering its datacentres with 60 percent renewable energy, and will aim to reach 70 percent renewable energy by 2023, on the path to 100 percent.

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Leaders look to embrace AI, and high-growth companies are seeing the benefits

Analysts and researchers have studied the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) on industries and economies, but few have focused on how AI will impact leadership. This provides a new opportunity for us to explore this area in more detail, addressing the appetite of leaders who want to learn more about the impact that AI can have on their roles.

We know that without the right leadership, businesses can falter and fail. Studying the relationship between AI and leadership could reveal vital information to help companies progress on their AI journey. With these questions in mind, we embarked on a new piece of research with Susan Etlinger, AI analyst with the Altimeter Group, and Heike Bruch, Professor of Leadership at the University of St. Gallen.

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Homeworkers rejoice: Microsoft Teams’ new customized background feature hides distractions at the press of a button

A scattering of toys. A snoozing cat. A well-deserved mug of coffee. These are the signs of life that make a home – but they can also be a source of stress if you’ve got a video call with a client.

Enter customized backgrounds – a new Microsoft Teams feature, due to arrive later this year, which will cleverly replace your background on a video call at the press of a button, with no Hollywood green screen magic required.

Building upon Teams’ existing intelligent background blur technology, the new feature will allow you to select a custom background, such as a company logo or office environment, taking the pressure off those important calls, while minimising distractions.

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The story behind the world’s first AI-created whisky

The number 36 may not hold any significance for you, but for Angela D’Orazio, it marks an important milestone.   

D’Orazio is the master blender and chief nose officer at Mackmyra – a multi-award-winning Swedish whisky distillery, and the producer of the world’s first AI-created whisky.

Recipe number 36, generated by an AI algorithm, was the one that D’Orazio personally selected for the groundbreaking blend, before it went into production and on general sale.

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9 nostalgic tech sounds you (probably) haven’t heard in years

The year is 1995, and I’m seven years old. I’ve just finished typing up my homework, and a few mechanical clunks later, it’s saved to a floppy disk, ready for printing at school tomorrow. I grab my headphones, and hit play on my Walkman: The Beach Boys – Greatest Hits. It’s an old tape that belonged to my dad, and despite Brian Wilson and co. forming their band almost 30 years before I was born, their bright harmonies never fail to bring a smile to my face.   

We all have memories like this. Whether it was your first colour TV, or shiny new console, certain technologies have a special place in our hearts. Beyond their looks, the sounds associated with our favourite gadgets can usher in a powerful sense of nostalgia. We’ve rounded up some of our favourites below, and we encourage you to share yours with us @MSEurope.

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This Slovak startup is using AI and drones to help preserve natural water cycles

It covers more than two-thirds of our planet and makes up more than half of our body composition. It sparks life, grows food, and has the power to carve through mountains and shape the earth. Water is one of humanity’s most precious resources, and we must do everything we can to conserve its natural balance.

We’ve seen evidence of climate change causing worsening droughts around the world, with an impact on farmland and a decrease in crop yields. Due to expanding urbanisation causing water to deviate from its natural path, we’ve also seen the onset of rapid, unnatural flooding. Sustainability has never been more important, and thankfully for us, bright minds and passionate people around the world are on the case.

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Jobs of the future: teaching empathy to artificial intelligence

In a world of taps, swipes, likes and shares, the ability to empathise with others remains a vital part of our daily lives. From comforting a friend, to sharing the pain of an unwell child, empathy is a vital skill that we develop through childhood. Now, thanks to advancements in technology, we’re at a stage where we can think about the importance of empathy in machines. Artificial intelligence (AI) is becoming an ever-increasing presence in our daily lives, whether it’s the voice assistant on your phone, or the complex algorithms used to fight diseases.

The way we design interactions with AI systems and the results they provide should be thoughtfully considered, and in the future, the responsibility for designing artificial empathy could fall under the remit of an empathologist – a job that has yet to exist.

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Microsoft’s new quantum computing lab in Delft opens its doors to a world of possibilities

A new Microsoft laboratory at the Delft University of Technology is the latest step towards making quantum computing a reality.

The Microsoft Quantum Lab Delft, which was opened today by King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands, is the culmination of a partnership between Microsoft and QuTech to collaboratively research the building blocks for a quantum computer.

Leo Kouwenhoven, Scientific Director of Microsoft Quantum Lab Delft as well as Professor at Delft University of Technology, stated that “With the opening of this Lab, we see what is possible when business, science, and the government unite. Together, we have built a world-class laboratory in Delft which will enable us to expedite development of a revolutionary quantum computer. The Netherlands now has the necessary ingredients to develop the type of compute power that could drastically change humankind’s daily lives – from personalised medication, to the development of new renewable energy sources.”

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How AI, drones and cameras are keeping our roads and bridges safe

Europe’s roads are the safest in the world. Current figures show that there are 50 fatalities per one million inhabitants, compared to the global figure of 174 deaths per million. Despite this, each loss remains a tragedy. In 2017, 25,300 people lost their lives on European roads.   

The cause of these accidents can vary from human error and weather conditions, to damaged structures and surfaces. While some things are beyond the realms of control, road and bridge conditions are a variable which can be governed.

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