Artificial intelligence is still in a “mainframe era” in which computing power is concentrated in a few companies’ hands, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said in a presentation in Munich on Monday.
The computer industry is “worshipping” technology companies that can simulate real-world processes using AI software, but to become more useful the techniques need to be available to more users, as PCs and mobile devices over time displaced centralised computing, Nadella said in a speech at the DLD technology conference.
Microsoft’s strategy will centre on building support for AI into tools many developers can use. “We fit that identity pretty well,” Nadella said, adding that Microsoft could also build support for AI techniques into products including LinkedIn and its HoloLens virtual reality system.
Nadella, entering his fourth year as Microsoft’s CEO, has been promoting “responsible” AI to try to ensure the burgeoning computing discipline safeguards computer users’ privacy and preserves the dignity of people and their work.
AI, a set of statistical techniques that spans robotics, self-driving cars, language translation and photo recognition, has raised ethical questions about the effects of systems that inferences on employment levels, racial profiling and the role of robots in society.
Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk have voiced concerns about the societal consequences of AI and cautioned prudence.
The 49-year-old CEO, who succeeded longtime CEO Steve Ballmer in 2014, has reorganised the company’s vaunted research arm around AI and shipped products including Azure cloud computing services and tools for developers to build applications for AI applications; software for real-time translation of spoken German, Chinese and other languages; and the Cortana speech assistant.
He’s also compelled Microsoft’s product groups to cooperate to ship products faster and has greatly expanded Microsoft software available on platforms other than Windows, including those from Apple and Google. Microsoft last month closed its US$26bn acquisition of LinkedIn.
Microsoft on 13 January said it has acquired Maluuba, a Montreal-based AI startup specialising in analysing written content, for example sifting through businesses’ documents to find experts in given fields.
“We’re out of the AI winter,” Nadella said. Next on the industry’s agenda should be software that can more generally reason across numerous tasks. “Then you would get to artificial general intelligence,” he said. — (c) 2017 Bloomberg LP