Microsoft merges Research, Bing and Cortana into new AI unit

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Microsoft merges Research, Bing and Cortana into new AI unit

Teams up with four tech giants for AI not-for-profit.

Microsoft has merged three of its business units to create a new artificial intelligence division, while teaming with four of the world's biggest tech giants to promote public understanding of AI.

The artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning research industry is estimated to grow to US$70 billion by 2020 from just US$8.2 billion in 2013, according to a Bank of America report that cited IDC research.

Microsoft is hoping to tap into that pool by combining its Bing and Cortana product groups with its Research division to create the new AI and Research Group. The business unit will be Microsoft's fourth engineering unit alongside Windows, Office, and Azure.

The new division will employ 5000 engineers and computer scientists, led by Microsoft veteran Harry Shum.

"Microsoft has been working in artificial intelligence since the beginning of Microsoft Research, and yet we've only begun to scratch the surface of what's possible," Shum said in a statement.

Microsoft has also been acquiring companies to expand its AI footprint. The company in February acquired SwiftKey, a maker of predictive keyboard app. And last month it bought Genee, an AI-based scheduling service.

The company also this week announced it had partnered with Amazon, Google, Facebook and IBM to create a non-profit organisation to advance public understanding of AI technologies.

The not-for-profit has been named the Partnership on Artificial Intelligence to Benefit People and Society. 

It will "conduct research, recommend best practices, and publish research under an open license in areas such as ethics, fairness and inclusivity; transparency, privacy, and interoperability; collaboration between people and AI systems; and the trustworthiness, reliability and robustness of the technology".

The companies said the organisation did not intend to lobby government or policy makers on AI.

"AI technologies hold tremendous potential to improve many aspects of life, ranging from healthcare, education, and manufacturing to home automation and transportation," the organisation said in a statement.

"Through rigorous research, the development of best practices, and an open and transparent dialogue, the founding members of the Partnership on AI hope to maximise this potential and ensure it benefits as many people as possible."

With Reuters

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