Power and Responsibility: Highlights from Microsoft Build

Live from Seattle, Tech Trends scoops up all the tastiest bites from the #MSBuild2018 developer’s conference.

“We need to ask ourselves not only what computers can do, but what they should do,” said Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella in his opening keynote at Build.
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Addressing an audience of over five thousand developers in Seattle’s Washington Convention Center, Nadella struck a soberly optimistic note, insisting on the message he delivered last year of the great transformative power of technology but highlighting the considerable challenges that come with its rapid development.

“These advancements create incredible developer opportunity and also come with a responsibility to ensure the technology we build is trusted and benefits all.”

It was clear that the Facebook scandal was top of mind in this message, even if (unsurprisingly) wasn’t directly referenced even as he advocated for the need to put customers in control and safeguard privacy, or said that “GDPR is good, solid regulation and we’re working hard to build the compliance infrastructure.” He stressed, however, that it was just a starting point, and that the work was never going to be done: “we’re going to continuously work to preserve privacy, this is just the starting point.”

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Ethical AI

By 2020, the average person will generate 1.5GB of data a day, a smart home 50GB and a smart city, a whopping 250 petabytes of data per day. This data — as the Cambridge Analytica debacle indicated all too painfully — gives developers a tremendous amount of power, and responsibility.

Microsoft sees the “intelligent cloud” as the backbone of this revolution. In the next 10 years, billions of everyday devices will become “smart” — being able to see, listen, reason, predict and more, without a 24/7 dependence on the cloud. This is what they call the “intelligent edge” — the interface between computers and the real world. Within that vision, Azure is being built as “the world’s computer,” a ubiquitous computing fabric that would allow Microsoft to meet the digital sovereignty and regulatory needs of their customers while delivering the benefits of innovation.

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“Artificial intelligence has truly replaced Windows as Microsoft’s key platform for developers,” says Nick McQuire, VP of Enterprise Research at CCS Insight. “The majority of developer focus will shift from operating systems to artificial intelligence platforms as they increasingly look to intelligence services that span all devices including Internet of things. Its intelligent cloud and intelligent edge strategy is a much more compelling proposition for developers which will continue to define its corporate strategy for the next several years.”

McQuire points to the fact that this follows similar moves made by Amazon Web Services over the past 12 months, and sees it as a clear statement of intent at gaining developer mindshare against Google ahead of its own developer event, Google I/O which also happens this week.

Kinect gets a Second Life

The Kinect was the first commercial device to integrated speech, gaze and vision, and since its launch a broad range of industrial applications — from security to manufacturing and healthcare — have been developed for it, and the technology has also been incorporated in devices such as the HoloLens.

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Sensor technology has come a long way since then, however, and Microsoft now wants to combine those capabilities with Azure AI services such as Machine Learning, Cognitive Services, and IoT Edge. Project Kinect for Azure will be a package of sensors — with extra wide field of view — capable of inputting fully articulated hand tracking and high-fidelity special mapping. It will include a next-generation depth camera, with onboard compute designed for AI on the Edge, with what Microsoft calls “ambient intelligence,” and essentially means the device’s ability to scan its surroundings and make sense of them in context with cloud databases as well at that real-time spatial scanned information. Which is all incredibly exciting, but as a Mixed Reality fan, they frankly had me at “Extra wide Field of View)

Lorraine Bardeen, GM Studio Manager, also introduced two new Mixed Reality Products during the keynote: Microsoft Remote Assist — which allows customers to better collaborate remotely with heads-up, hands-free video calling, image sharing, and mixed-reality annotations — and Microsoft Layout, which lets you import 3-D models to create room layouts in real-world scale, experience designs as high-quality holograms in physical space or in virtual reality. With a potential market of 2 billion first-line workers, this is a huge opportunity, Bardeen told developers.

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Alexa+Cortana = BFFs

Microsoft was keen to show how it’s been fostering collaborations across the board in an effort to make its platform play nicely with pretty much anyone. The company announced that it was open-sourcing the Azure IoT Edge to allow developers to develop more easily for it, and then went on to do a very well-choreographed demo introduced by Nadella, who said they had been working with “their friends across the lake” to bring Alexa and Cortana together.

Tom Taylor — SVP of Amazon Alexa, then came on stage together with his Microsoft counterpart to show how Cortana and Alexa could be “intelligent friends,” helping their users with different sorts of tasks and collaborating seamlessly with each other as well as their humans. As always you have to wonder how consistently and smoothly these things would work day-to-day but it did make the audience giggle and gave you a warm and fuzzy sort of feeling…

Main #Build2018 announcements

  • Following from last year’s announcement of AI for Earth — a program to apply artificial intelligence towards unlocking solutions to climate, water, agriculture, and biodiversity issues facing the planet — Microsoft is now expanding that model with a new $25 million 5-year program called AI for Accessibility, aimed to accelerate the development of accessible and intelligent AI solutions to benefit the over one billion people around the world who live with disabilities. The program comprises grants, technology investments and expertise, and will also incorporate AI for Accessibility innovations into Microsoft Cloud services.
  • The world’s biggest drone company, DJI announced a commercial partnership with Microsoft to co-develop solutions leveraging Azure IoT Edge and Microsoft’s AI services across new scenarios such as agriculture, construction and public safety. They will create a new SDK for Windows 10 PCs to bring full flight control and real-time data transfer capabilities to nearly 700M Windows 10 connected devices globally.
  • A joint effort with Qualcomm to create a vision AI developer kit running Azure IoT Edge which makes available the key hardware and software required to develop camera-based IoT solutions. The camera can also power advanced Azure services, such as machine learning, stream analytics and cognitive services that can be downloaded from the cloud to run locally on the edge.
  • Speech Devices SDK delivering audio processing from multichannel sources for more accurate speech recognition, including noise cancellation and far-field voice. With this, developers can build a variety of voice-enabled scenarios like drive-thru ordering systems, in-car or in-home assistants, smart speakers, and other digital assistants.
  • A preview of Project Brainwave — an architecture for deep neural net processing — is now available on Azure and on the edge, and makes it the fastest cloud to run real-time AI.
  • Azure Cognitive Services updates include a unified Speech service with improved speech recognition and text-to-speech, which support customized voice models and translation.
  • New updates to Bot Framework and Cognitive Services will power the next generation of conversational bots enabling richer dialogs, and full personality and voice customization to match the company’s brand identity.
  • Azure Search with Cognitive Services integration — combining AI with indexing technologies so it’s possible to quickly find information via text or images.
  • Partnership with GitHub that brings the power of Azure DevOps services to GitHub customers, including integration with Visual Studio App Center.
  • The Microsoft Azure Blockchain Workbench makes it easier to develop blockchain applications by stitching together an Azure-supported blockchain network with cloud services.
  • Power BI Visualizations makes it possible for developers to extend the custom visuals created for Power BI to Excel.
  • A new way to connect your phone to your PC with Windows 10 that enables instant access to text messages, photos and notifications — imagine being able to quickly drag and drop your phone’s photos into a document on your PC in one swift movement — without having to take your phone out of your pocket.
  • Microsoft 365 currently has 135M commercial monthly active users and nearly 700M Windows 10 connected devices. The suite of new features announced at Build are aimed at better blending between web and application environments for end users and developers and enabling developers to create experiences

Remember you can find out more about Build and watch the live keynotes here and play the Microsoft Build announcements bingo with the card below!

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Alice Bonasio is a VR Consultant and Tech Trends’ Editor in Chief. She also regularly writes for Fast Company, Ars Technica, Quartz, Wired and others. Connect with her on LinkedIn and follow @alicebonasio on Twitter.

Originally published at Tech Trends.

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