Innovation

Microsoft to use AI to assist the blind, fix bias, and rescue the planet

Microsoft's Harry Shum spoke at a London event, explaining the firm's vision for artificial intelligence research and its use in solving health and environmental issues.

At a Wednesday event in London, Harry Shum, executive vice president for Microsoft's AI and Research Group, explained the firm's plans to improve its research in artificial intelligence (AI), as well as to use the technology to help the blind and solve environmental issues.

The company formed a new incubation hub called Microsoft Research AI (MSR AI) to focus on some of the problems and challenges in the AI space. The MSR AI team will work on the theoretical application of AI, as well as its practical implementation in the real world, a Microsoft blog post said.

According to the post, fields of study like machine learning, perception, and natural language processing have fractured and moved in different directions. A goal of the MSR AI team will be to reunite these fields of study and develop a more integrated approach to AI.

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In order to make sure that further developments are pursued in the proper fashion—accessible and inclusive to everyone—Microsoft also noted that it is working on an Ethical Design Guide for AI product development, based on CEO Satya Nadella's 10 principles for AI development.

"As technology that uses AI gets smarter, we want to ensure that we take a responsible approach to our progress - and one that will ultimately provide the most benefit to our customers and to society as a whole," Shum said at the event.

A new iOS app that uses AI-powered vision recognition to help blind and low-vision citizens understand what content is in images was also announced at the event. Microsoft's Cambridge research lab will be partnering with University of Amsterdam machine reading expert Max Welling to continue its work in the field.

Microsoft is also addressing environmental issues with its new AI for Earth program that will give NGOs and other groups AI tools to tackle issues like climate change and more, the post said. Microsoft plans on investing more than $2 million into this program over the next year through grants, training sessions, and other projects.

Microsoft Cognitive Services also got a few updates. Developer tools such as a new Bing Entity Search API and the Project Prague gestures SDK will allow developers to build more AI-powered apps. Additionally, Microsoft unveiled the Presentation Translator, which the post described as "a PowerPoint add-in that gives presenters the ability to add subtitles to their presentations across the same language or more than 60 different languages." Presentation Translator could have major implication for international business professionals who are often tasked with presenting to business leaders in other countries where they might not know the language.

The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers

  1. The new Microsoft Research AI team will work on reuniting the fields of machine learning, perception, and natural language processing to develop a more integrated AI approach.
  2. Seeing AI is a new iOS app that uses machine vision capabilities to describe to blind users what is happening in a given image or piece of content.
  3. Microsoft's AI for Earth program will offer AI tools and support to NGOs and other organizations to help them take on climate change and other problems.

Also see

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Image: Microsoft

About Conner Forrest

Conner Forrest is a Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He covers enterprise technology and is interested in the convergence of tech and culture.

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