We live in an incredible era for technological innovation. Cars can recognize and make decisions about the objects around them; an online support agent can hold a conversation with a human and successfully resolve issues; a manufacturing system can reason over vast quantities of historical data and accurately predict the future; a medical imaging system can assist a clinician to spot tumors more accurately. All because of the recent advancements in a long-predicted technology—artificial intelligence (AI).
For businesses, AI represents opportunity. AI has the potential not just to help businesses be more efficient and save costs, but also to empower them to transform their industries and break through tough functional and environmental barriers. By infusing this type of intelligence into their technology, businesses will enable collaborative and natural interactions between people and machines that extend the human ability to sense, learn, and understand, empowering people to reclaim their most valuable resource—time. AI will help us transform industries, from automotive to manufacturing, healthcare to education, agriculture, research, and the public sector.
Why is AI becoming relevant now?
For the first time, we are beginning to see what life with AI will look like within the context of our daily lives, and it’s a bit different than most dinner table conversations predicted. AI’s real-world applications have been more focused on helping us solve problems, find new efficiencies, and personalize experiences. If we look closely, we can see that many of us interact with AI every day. For example, it’s powering the services we use to find directions, conduct online searches, protect our banking services from fraud. It’s even powering the technology we are beginning to trust with building our products, driving our cars, and flying our airplanes.
While popular culture has defined AI as artificial intelligence, we believe the term augmented intelligence is far more accurate. The combination of machine learning, deep learning technology, bots, and intelligent agents on a powerful cloud computing platform has ushered in a new era of computing that’s defined not so much by what machines can do independently or as human substitutes, but rather by how they can amplify human will and action as tireless auxiliaries in countless arenas.
How are businesses evolving with AI?
AI is enabling businesses to engage their customers in new ways through new customer experiences and high value add-on services. Intelligent services, such as chatbots, are poised to revolutionize interactions with customers. Today, businesses dedicate a large amount of their costly human resources to responding to routine, repeatable customer service tasks. Chatbot software will enable businesses to interact with customers through automated personal communications that not only provide on-demand customer support, but even tailor their shopping experiences based on individual needs.
Being able to treat customers individually at scale has become a major advantage in today’s competitive business landscape. Through the application of intelligent algorithms, we are moving past just being able to recommend other products or similar shows to watch based on a customer’s interests. AI is enabling us to build complex applications that integrate with existing products and services to enhance the customer experience. For example, ELSE Corp. has developed a cloud-based, software-as-a-service platform for virtual retail shopping that can be integrated into any retail apparel environment to sell customizable, made-to-order products. The platform works by using AI and virtual reality tools to scan the customer’s measurements and then enable them to see how a garment will actually look on them through a realistic, 3D virtual image of the product they’ve selected.
Recent advancements in machine learning and advanced algorithms have opened new opportunities to create relevant and creative experiences that intuitively connect with customers in their social world. With the help of these intelligent services, businesses can empower their customers to share personal stories through the brand at massive scale. For example, the Coca-Cola Company invited customers to submit a picture of themselves with a Coca-Cola bottle with a visible logo and see what happens. Powered by the Microsoft Cortana Intelligence Suiteand Cognitive Services, the web app would predict the age of the Coca-Cola bottle and encourage users to share their experience online. The experiment enabled Coca-Cola to connect with global fans in a fun, engaging way while building brand recognition.
One of AI’s most common applications is crunching data in real time to provide users with tailored recommendations and identify insightful correlations. The application of this capability is nearly universal, but healthcare is particularly interesting.
As the healthcare industry continues to digitize, the quantity of medical-related data grows. While this increasing quantity is nearly impossible for us to handle on our own, AI provides the horsepower needed to harness its potential value. For example, advanced algorithms can sift through complex structured and unstructured data (such as medical records, individual x-rays, and medical databases) to provide doctors with evidence-based, highly personalized treatment recommendations for their patients. AI could provide this insight at scale, providing valuable insight and time back to thousands of clinicians worldwide.
Another exciting innovation being driven by AI is applying augmented reality (AR) to scenarios such as product development, customer retail experience, and field service. For instance, we can use AI to bring intelligence to field maintenance and repair that extends the capabilities of field technicians. Using AR plus Internet of Things (IoT) technologies, a headset for repair technicians could combine data gathered from embedded sensors with visual information captured by onboard cameras. This headset could provide the technicians with possible diagnoses, contextual insights such as historical sensor readings and successful fixes, step-by-repair guides, and connectivity to experts. This system of intelligence would be continuously learning, getting smarter and more experienced, enabling repair technicians to inspect, operate, maintain, and repair assets highly efficiently and more accurately.
Systems of intelligence, fueled by the explosive growth of IoT and the advanced algorithms of AI, are enabling businesses to introduce digital intelligence into their environments, which helps them shift from hindsight to foresight and automate manual processes. Envision an environment where a continuously learning digital intelligence system helps detect a potential design defect before production ever starts, generate service tickets automatically when machine inefficiency is detected, and proactively present contextual, step-by-step repair guidance to onsite technicians through an augmented reality headset.
Some of this is already possible today. For example, Jabil is using Microsoft solutions enabled by Azure Machine Learning, Azure IoT Suite, and Cortana Intelligence Suite to create digital factories that identify potential errors or failures early in the process—before they even occur. As a result, Jabil has seen a scrap and re-work savings of 17 percent, and an energy savings of 10 percent.
AI benefits aren’t limited to just finding efficiencies in existing processes at factory floors, production sites, or business campuses. AI can be applied to help solve challenges that require fast, real-time analysis of all kinds of data—such as building management using AI to scan persons entering their buildings, identifying suspicious activity; financial services organizations improving their fraud detection with more advanced data analysis and biometric identification; or an agricultural company calculating the quantity of inventory currently being stored in off-site siloes from drone-captured images. In 2016, Uber started using Microsoft Cognitive Services to power their new Real-Time ID Check solution that verifies drivers’ identities to help protect drivers’ accounts from fraud and adds another security layer to Uber’s app for passengers.
A key to success in today’s competitive landscape is being able to treat customers as individuals. This means businesses need to not only understand each of their customers’ needs and tastes, but also have the ability to customize their product offerings at a more personal level. While daunting, AI is making this much more feasible from two key perspectives.
First, AI is enabling businesses to more easily build 360-degree views of their customers by sifting through structured and unstructured data to find previously hidden insights and correlations—such as creating a more complete map of a customer’s journey or identifying customers who aren’t logged into the system. By using AI to fill these gaps, businesses can better understand their customers and offer more compelling products and services. For example, Allrecipes.com partnered with Microsoft to provide their customers with personalized recipe recommendations based on the cooks’ historical and real-time interaction. Because the Recommendations API is adaptive, Allrecipes.com can dynamically improve the recommendations by adding more variables including location, time of day, ambient weather conditions—all without needing to release code.
Second, AI can help businesses offer personalized products at scale. For some businesses, producing individualized tangible goods isn’t very feasible at global scale. However, AI is enabling us to build complex applications that integrate with existing products and services to transform the product and personalize the customer experience. For example, BMW has partnered with Microsoft to build its BMW Connected platform, which provides subscribers with a journey management tool that communicates to them when and where they need to be and how to get there. The tool stores and analyzes information on traffic conditions and the subscriber’s individual calendar, contacts, message, app, and habits on Microsoft Azure.
Our unique approach
“We are not simply building individual tools, but rather designing an intelligent fabric based on four principles—collaboration, mobility, intelligence, and trust.”—Satya Nadella, CEO, Microsoft 2016 Annual Report
At Microsoft, we are investing in AI and machine learning and making it the core of our strategy. We recently created a new AI and Research group of more than 5,000 researchers and engineers dedicated to developing advances in AI that will build on nearly two decades of progress in machine learning and natural language processing.
Our researchers are thought leaders on the ethics and societal impacts of intelligent technologies. The research, tools, and services that result from this investment are woven into existing and new products and, at the same time, made open and accessible to the broader community in a bid to accelerate innovation, democratize AI, and solve the world’s most pressing challenges.
Microsoft’s vision for a four-pronged approach to AI and our intelligent cloud platform offer customers a compelling partnership in their journey to adopt AI. By working together with Microsoft, customers can harness the power of their data to create systems of intelligence that help drive sustainable innovation and generate new competitive differentiators.
Harnessing AI today
We are just beginning to see the potential of AI and the benefits it can bring. Early leaders are successfully connecting their people to the information and tools they need to move from data to insight and from insight to action—action that enables them to change the very nature of their business models and transform service into a competitive differentiator.