How Microsoft Research AI Hopes to Take on Google

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Microsoft Corp. is pushing further into the artificial intelligence market, announcing a new lab dubbed Microsoft Research AI, which is aimed at developing more general-purpose learning systems.

The lab, which will be located at its Redmond, Wash., headquarters will house more than 100 scientists from all areas of AI: learning, natural language, perception and reasoning. The idea behind the lab is multifaceted, with one goal being the creation of AI-enabled systems that can handle a variety of problems or tasks rather than a single product or device to tackle a particular problem, like getting around in traffic.

Microsoft said the integrated approach lets it develop tools that can do complex, multifaceted tasks. “Every day, computers are getting better at doing individual tasks like recognizing faces in photos or words in a conversation, using functionality such as pattern recognition and classification,” said Harry Shum, executive vice president of Microsoft AI and Research Group, in a blog post. “We believe AI will be even more helpful when we can create tools that combine those functions and add some of the abilities that come naturally to people.”

Ethics and Intelligence

Shum said the army of scientists and engineers will work closely with Microsoft’s research labs and product groups. They will be tasked with solving some of the toughest problems in AI and to accelerate the integration of advances into products and services. Another goal of the research lab is to make sure AI development remains transparent and ethical.

“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,” said Shum. “This is uncharted territory, and we recognize that the decisions we make will have profound implications.”

Microsoft’s new lab puts it it in direct competition with other research firms focused on AI. With most of them racing to develop general learning systems, the company will be going up against DeepMind in the U.K. and Google Brain in San Francisco, both of which are units of Alphabet Inc. OpenAI is another AI research lab that’s backed by Elon Musk and Peter Thiel, reported Bloomberg. For the software giant, AI is becoming an important aspect of its business, showing up in Cortana, its voice-activated virtual assistant and in its cloud computing offering. It also overhauled the structure of the company last week to better align with the cloud business and advanced technologies.

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