Microsoft vs Google in the AI world, Truth and beauty

In the last fortnight, two tech giants Microsoft and Google have laid down their strategies for an intelligent cloud or an Artificial intelligence world. Though both these companies are trying to sell the same thing their approach varies but as giants they will shape the future of technology.

Both Microsoft and Google have India born CEO’s so hopefully some part of this strategy should have an have an impact on India, the developer and start-up community here. My article on Sundar Pichai’s approach to AI is here

Microsoft’s moment of truth

Satya (truth) Nadella CEO of Microsoft unveiled Microsoft’s strategy in Seattle inside a dark auditorium in Seattle on May 10th. Nadella started off by focusing on the responsibilities of developers and how their choices will determine how AI affects the world. Will it help in solving the biggest problem or will it create a dystopian world where machines control humans.

Azure the cloud offering from Microsoft is looking at developers to use its artificial intelligence to create new solutions. Examples cited include the use of IOT devices, image recognition through commodity CCTVs to manage challenges at construction sites and factory shop floors. The intelligence for managing both people and material can be done through the intelligent Azure edge. Swedish industrial CNC machine maker uses Azure to remotely manage its machines and prevent failures. A construction company could use commodity CCTV cameras to prevent mishaps or even manage workers on sites. Microsoft is clearly identified the market segment as industrial sector while Google seems to be looking at consumers.

Microsoft is also looking at workers combining its tools like Skype, Outlook, Cortana and Linkedin for say managing meetings. Using Cortana as a personal assistant people can make notes of the meetings and sync it up with actionable items through Outlook. The overarching theme here is can office relationships and professional networks in Linkedin be leveraged using AI.

While it is somewhat of a stretch but as the Linkedin network for most professional is larger then people they interface inside a company. Can AI be used to assign tasks to the best person, not just inside the company but anywhere in the world. This will help remove the limitation of quality which organisation face with staff. Especially, as boundaries of how work is assigned between full time employees and contractors vanish. It would also take out the familiarity bias that leads to wrongful assignment of tasks. It could work in building more capable virtual teams.

For instance, say an IT services company is looking at building a team for a large project. How does it select the best individuals for the project? It could send a query out on Linkedin using a small bot on Azure which would help it select the best engineers both inside the company and outside. The algorithm could even compare the cost of internal and external workers for the project and select the best team. The possibilities are amazing if Indian IT companies start building solutions using AI even for internal use. There are so many areas where decisions can be improved.

Leveraging cloud based AI is an important area for IT companies, especially if they don’t want to be left behind. Indian IT services companies have witnessed slowdown in growth and even started retrenchment of employees. In the AI world it is not just programming skills but the ability to recognize problems. As intelligent computing resources are now available from Google, Amazon and Microsoft.

IT sector needs problems

Indian IT companies need thinkers who can identify problems and improve outcomes. While focusing on digital training is fine it is not enough if they want to jump to the next level.

The opening of computing power would mean that just the ability to digitize a process is not enough. What is needed is a new level thinking. Thinking about the core problem that a process is solving and then changing the process, introducing AI into it to give a better solution.

Take a simple problem, account reconciliation which used to be the largest revenue driver of BPO companies and is now being rapidly automated by a new generation of companies. The reason this business is moving away to automation is because companies did not improve the process or apply computing to it. They just replaced onsite manpower with cheaper offshore manpower. Now, if they start leveraging the AI to say solve the receivables cycles for a company they could have a new service offering.

The ability to redesign processes, identify the bigger problem that the process is even ignoring, in sum a out of the box thinking is the need of the hour. There are now tools available that can help Indian IT or BPO companies to leap ahead all they need is to think.

Truth and Beauty

It is a coincidence that Satya (Truth in hindi) and Sundar (beautiful in hindi) Pichai CEO of Google have both adopted AI first strategy for their companies. While Microsoft and Google are seen as competitors as they keep sniping at each other. Google docs and drive compete against Microsoft’s office suite. Google Android has beaten Microsoft in the OS space by becoming the default OS for all mobiles. In the cloud services market also both the companies compete and both of them are making their cloud offerings intelligent.

Google as a hardware innovator has reinvented the data center to become more efficient, fast and energy efficient. Microsoft has the advantage of legacy with large corporate and 90% of the Fortune 500 companies among its 12 million Azure customers. If the two companies were to collaborate on the AI front they would effectively control the cloud. There are too many opportunities possible with the diverse customers and products that both these companies have. Of course truth is always beautiful, but will beauty find the truth is billion dollar question.

K Yatish Rajawat is a digital strategist based in New Delhi, he tweets @yatishrajawat

p.s: ‘True beauty’ in the headline is a take on first names of the CEO of Microsoft and Google,Satya which means truth and Sundar which means beautiful.

An abridged version of this column was also published by Businessworld magazine

http://businessworld.in/article/Microsoft-Google-Will-Shape-The-AI-World-/28-05-2017-118819/