Microsoft Is Setting Up A New Center For Societal Impact Through Cloud and Artificial Intelligence

Microsoft Research India has announced the launch of a center for Societal impact through Cloud and Artificial Intelligence (SCAI). SCAI is part of the …
  • Microsoft Research India recently announced it is launching a center for Societal impact through Cloud and Artificial Intelligence (SCAI)

Microsoft Research India has announced the launch of a center for Societal impact through Cloud and Artificial Intelligence (SCAI). SCAI is part of the Microsoft Research (MSR) Lab in Bengaluru and the center is going to focus on creating and nurturing projects that can have real-world and large-scale societal impact, according to Mint. Through the SCAI, MSR India is going to collaborate with a number of partners, such as academia, startups, and NGOs.

“I am excited about the creation of the center for Societal Impact through Cloud and Artificial Intelligence and I am looking forward to the efforts and collaborations ahead. There are so many opportunities to leverage recent advances in cloud computing and AI technologies to address long-term societal challenges spanning multiple sectors and realms, including health and wellness, education, transportation, and agriculture,” said Microsoft Research technical fellow and director Eric Horvitz in a blog post.

SCAI is going to engage with NGOs, academicians, and startups through external collaborations. And the program will connect with graduate and undergraduate students through the SCAI Fellow program as it actively seeks collaborators through calls for proposals. SCAI collaborators are going to be provided with financial grants, access to Microsoft researchers and technologies as well as access to business insights from Microsoft for Startups. Plus MSR India’s physical space will enable members to exchange ideas and create a collaborative ecosystem.

Microsoft is currently working with four organizations, which were selected through a highly competitive RFP process. These organizations include Respirer Living Sciences (project focusing on urban air pollution), NIMHANS (project on mental health), Pratham Books (assisted translation system enabling children to read storybooks in multiple languages), and Voicedeck Technologies for Learn2Earn (a program which reinforces education and rewards learning through financial incentives).

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“At MSR India, we have been conducting research in the ICTD space since our inception. We see SCAI as a natural evolution of this, and we will partner with like-minded collaborators to apply technology to solve some of the most pressing problems in today’s world. I am looking forward to truly impactful projects emerging from SCAI,” added Microsoft Research India managing director Sriram Rajamani.

Along with its partnership with Microsoft for Startups, SCAI is also working with Navana Tech to focus on building text-free and voice-assisted technology. And the organizations are also partnering with Three Wheels United, which enables scalable lending to clients in emerging markets through technology. In the past, MSR India also created projects like 99 DOTS and Digital Green — which are now independent entities that are addressing different societal issues.

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Microsoft hires Apple’s former Siri chief

… CEO Satya Nadella on emerging technologies like artificial intelligence. … corporate vice president of technology in the office of the chief technology …

Microsoft has hired Bill Stasior, the person who until recently was in charge of the Siri virtual assistant at Apple.

The move underlines Microsoft’s focus under CEO Satya Nadella on emerging technologies like artificial intelligence.

In 2016 Microsoft established the Artificial Intelligence and Research engineering group in a reorganization. Months later the company added AI to its list of top priorities in its annual report. Last year Microsoft went further in another reorganization that placed some AI teams in the group working on Microsoft’s Azure public cloud.

Since then Microsoft has made AI acquisitions that have brought in additional talent, including Bonsai, Lobe and Semantic Machines.

Stasior announced his job change by updating his resume on his personal website on Monday. The resume says he’ll be corporate vice president of technology in the office of the chief technology officer, Kevin Scott. The Information reported on the move earlier on Monday.

A Microsoft spokesperson confirmed Stasior’s hire. “Starting in August, he will work to help align technology strategies across the company,” the spokesperson wrote in an email to CNBC.

Stasior was vice president for AI and Siri when he left in May, according to the resume. He had been at Apple since 2012. He said that he expanded the team from 70 engineers to more than 1,100 people and that he “played the leading role in bringing modern machine learning to Siri and Apple.” Apple said in 2018 that Siri was being actively used on more than 500 million devices, and earlier this year the company said that Siri would sound more natural in the forthcoming iOS 13 release. Apple previously made gains in this area through AI work.

Prior to his time at Apple, Stasior was one of the top executives at Amazon. He previously worked at AltaVista and Oracle. Stasior didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Javier Soltero, the person who was leading the Microsoft’s Siri competitor, Cortana, left last year. Earlier this year Cortana was decoupled from the search box in Microsoft’s Windows 10 operating system.

WATCH:Microsoft announces $1 billion investment in Elon Musk-backed AI company

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Nearly 20 Indians hit by Uber layoff as growth slips

Jill Hazelbaker, senior Vice President of marketing and public affairs at Uber, and its Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Dara Khosrowshahi told …

New Delhi: Several Indian employees were left in the lurch when ride-hailing service Uber sacked 400 staffers from its 1,200-member marketing team globally to cut costs and streamline operations.

In a document posted on LinkedIn as “Ex-Uber Marketers,” nearly 20 Indians employed with Uber who lost their jobs in the recent round of layoff have applied for jobs on the Microsoft-owned professional networking platform.

The Indian employees — working in various capacities as sales operations and marketing specialists, operation lead/coordinator/consultant, community support representative and partnership consultant — are based out of Gurugram, Hyderabad, Kerala, Lucknow, New Delhi and Jaipur.

The Google Doc sheet was being updated with more people joining from across the world who have lost their jobs. It had reached 250 at last count.

Uber is struggling financially after a lacklustre initial public offering (IPO) in May.

Jill Hazelbaker, senior Vice President of marketing and public affairs at Uber, and its Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Dara Khosrowshahi told employees earlier this week that the marketing team would have a more centralised structure.

The company’s latest public global headcount was 24,494 global employees as of March 31.

Uber, which will report its Q2 earnings next week, had its slowest growth in Q1, losing $1 billion.

The ride-hailing giant has had a rocky start after it became a publicly traded company. When it issued its initial public offering in May, its stock fell by nearly 8 per cent.

Since then its shares have hovered around its $45 IPO price. The company has also seen three board members step down, along with its Chief Operating Officer (COO) and Chief Marketing Officer (CMO), according to the CNET.

Khosrowshahi has been rejigging the team and the company recently announced the retirement of COO Barney Harford and CMO Rebecca Messina.

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How $1bn from Microsoft could help to mimic the brain

Now, at 34, he is the chief executive of OpenAI, the artificial intelligence lab he helped create in 2015 with Elon Musk, the billionaire chief executive of …

As the waitress approached the table, Sam Altman held up his phone. That made it easier to see the dollar amount typed into an investment contract he had spent the last 30 days negotiating with Microsoft. “$1,000,000,000,” it read.

The investment from Microsoft, signed early this month and announced on Monday, signals a new direction for Altman’s research lab. In March, Altman stepped down from his daily duties as the head of Y Combinator, the startup “accelerator” that catapulted him into the Silicon Valley elite.

Now, at 34, he is the chief executive of OpenAI, the artificial intelligence lab he helped create in 2015 with Elon Musk, the billionaire chief executive of the electric carmaker Tesla.

Musk left the lab last year to concentrate on his own AI ambitions at Tesla. Since then, Altman has remade OpenAI, founded as a nonprofit, into a for-profit company so it could more aggressively pursue financing. Now he has landed a marquee investor to help it chase an outrageously lofty goal.

He and his team of researchers hope to build artificial general intelligence, or AGI, a machine that can do anything the human brain can do. AGI still has a whiff of science fiction. But in their agreement, Microsoft and OpenAI discuss the possibility with the same matter-of-fact language they might apply to any other technology they hope to build, whether it’s a cloud-computing service or a new kind of robotic arm.

Sam Altman, who manages the company OpenAI, at the Microsoft Campus in Redmond, Washington. “My goal in running OpenAI is to successfully create broadly beneficial AGI.” Photograph: Ian C Bates/New York Times
Sam Altman, who manages the company OpenAI, at the Microsoft Campus in Redmond, Washington. “My goal in running OpenAI is to successfully create broadly beneficial AGI.” Photograph: Ian C Bates/New York Times

“My goal in running OpenAI is to successfully create broadly beneficial AGI,” Altman said in a recent interview. And this partnership is the most important milestone so far on that path.”

In recent years, a small but fervent community of artificial intelligence researchers have set their sights on AGI, and they are backed by some of the wealthiest companies in the world. DeepMind, a top lab owned by Google’s parent company, says it is chasing the same goal.

Most experts believe AGI will not arrive for decades or even centuries – if it arrives at all. Even Altman admits OpenAI may never get there. But the race is on nonetheless. In a joint phone interview with Altman, Microsoft’s chief executive, Satya Nadella, later compared AGI to his company’s efforts to build a quantum computer, a machine that would be exponentially faster than today’s machines.

“Whether it’s our pursuit of quantum computing or it’s a pursuit of AGI, I think you need these high-ambition North Stars,” he said.

Altman’s 100-employee company recently built a system that could beat the world’s best players at a video game called Dota 2. Just a few years ago, this kind of thing did not seem possible. Dota 2 is a game in which each player must navigate a complex, three-dimensional environment along with several other players, co-ordinating a careful balance between attack and defence. In other words, it requires old-fashioned teamwork, and that is a difficult skill for machines to master.

Computer chips

OpenAI mastered Dota 2 thanks to a mathematical technique called reinforcement learning, which allows machines to learn tasks by extreme trial and error. By playing the game over and over again, automated pieces of software, called agents, learned which strategies are successful.

The agents learned those skills over the course of several months, racking up more than 45,000 years of game play. That required enormous amounts of raw computing power. OpenAI spent millions of dollars renting access to tens of thousands of computer chips inside cloud computing services run by companies like Google and Amazon.

Eventually, Altman and his colleagues believe, they can build AGI in a similar way. If they can gather enough data to describe everything humans deal with on a daily basis – and if they have enough computing power to analyse all that data – they believe they can rebuild human intelligence.

Altman painted the deal with Microsoft as a step in this direction. As Microsoft invests in OpenAI, the tech giant will also work on building new kinds of computing systems that can help the lab analyse increasingly large amounts of information.

Satya Nadella of Microsoft

“This is about really having that tight feedback cycle between a high-ambition pursuit of AGI and what is our core business, which is building the world’s computer,” Nadella said.

That work will likely include computer chips designed specifically for training artificial intelligence systems. Like Google, Amazon and dozens of startups across the globe, Microsoft is already exploring this new kind of chip.

Most of that $1 billion, Altman said, will be spent on the computing power OpenAI needs to achieve its ambitions. And under the terms of the new contract, Microsoft will eventually become the lab’s sole source of computing power.

Nadella said Microsoft would not necessarily invest that $1 billion (€900 million) all at once. It could be doled out over the course of a decade or more. Microsoft is investing dollars that will be fed back into its own business, as OpenAI purchases computing power from the software giant, and the collaboration between the two companies could yield a wide array of technologies.

Because AGI is not yet possible, OpenAI is starting with narrower projects. It built a system recently that tries to understand natural language. The technology could feed everything from digital assistants like Alexa and Google Home to software that automatically analyses documents inside law firms, hospitals and other businesses.

The deal is also a way for these two companies to promote themselves. OpenAI needs computing power to fulfill its ambitions, but it must also attract the world’s leading researchers, which is hard to do in today’s market for talent. Microsoft is competing with Google and Amazon in cloud computing, where AI capabilities are increasingly important.

Real world

The question is how seriously we should take the idea of artificial general intelligence. Like others in the tech industry, Altman often talks as if its future is inevitable.

“I think that AGI will be the most important technological development in human history,” he said during the interview with Nadella. Altman alluded to concerns from people like Musk that AGI could spin outside our control.

“Figuring out a way to do that is going to be one of the most important societal challenges we face.”

But a game like Dota 2 is a far cry from the complexities of the real world. Artificial intelligence has improved in significant ways in recent years, thanks to many of the technologies cultivated at places like DeepMind and OpenAI.

There are systems that can recognise images, identify spoken words, and translate between languages with an accuracy that was not possible just a few years ago. But this does not mean that AGI is near or even that it is possible.

“We are no closer to AGI than we have ever been,” said Oren Etzioni, chief executive of the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, an influential research lab in Seattle.

Geoffrey Hinton, the Google researcher who recently won the Turing Award – often called the Nobel Prize of computing – for his contributions to artificial intelligence over the past several years, was recently asked about the race to AGI.

“It’s too big a problem,” he said. “I’d much rather focus on something where you can figure out how you might solve it.”

The other question with AGI, he added, is: Why do we need it?

– The New York Times News Service

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GitHub is reportedly blocking access to its site for users in places like Crimea and Iran, which are …

Some longtime GitHub users reported this week that the Microsoft-owned company has restricted their use of its code-hosting service because they …

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and incoming GitHub CEO Nat FriedmanMicrosoft

Some longtime GitHub users reported this week that the Microsoft-owned company has restricted their use of its code-hosting service because they live in countries that are subject to US trade sanctions.

A software developer who is based in the Russian-occupied Crimea region of Ukraine and another who lives in Iran each said in separate online posts that they’d been notified by GitHub that their access to its service has been curtailed. The Iranian developer, Hamed Saeedi, said in a post on Medium on Wednesday that his code repository has been disabled, he can’t access parts of the GitHub site, and he can’t download the data he had hosted there.See the rest of the story at Business Insider