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Working Smarter, Not Harder – AI and Office 365

3 Mar 2017 by Laura Zawacki

In recent years, almost every big name in tech (Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Salesforce, Uber, etc.) has jumped onboard the Artificial Intelligence (AI) bandwagon. Investing in research labs and acquiring companies focused in these areas, each is looking for a way to incorporate AI into their products and services to more intelligently and proactively serve their clients.
Although some have called for more regulatory oversight when it comes to AI, tech companies don’t seem to be slowing down their endeavours to create human-like machines that can think independently and make decisions.
In September 2016, Microsoft formed the Microsoft AI and Research Group, which joined their research organisation with thousands of computer scientists and engineers, with the goal of democratising AI for all. Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella, described this commitment saying, ‘At Microsoft, we are focused on empowering both people and organisations, by democratising access to intelligence to help solve our most pressing challenges. To do this, we are infusing AI into everything we deliver across our computing platforms and experiences.’
Microsoft has already implemented AI features in many, if not all, of their products, including agents like the digital assistant, Cortana, applications such as Office 365 and Skype, services for application developers, and Microsoft’s Azure infrastructure.

Microsoft deepens their investment

On January 13, 2017, Microsoft deepened their investment in AI through the acquisition of Maluuba. The four-year-old, Montreal-based company ‘has focused on the areas of machine reading comprehension, dialogue understanding, and general (human) intelligence capabilities such as memory, common-sense reasoning, and information seeking behaviour.’
This acquisition is mutually beneficial for Microsoft and Maluuba. With the seemingly endless resources supplied by Microsoft (financial, infrastructure, and talent), the Maluuba team can massively scale their research to achieve their goal of solving artificial general intelligence, and Microsoft can strengthen their solution offerings to deliver even more useful and innovative products to their users, and the world.
Both the Microsoft and Maluuba teams are strategically structured so that research and engineering teams work closely, fast-tracking the impact that these advancements have on product development.

Which Microsoft products are already being influenced by AI?

In short, all of them. With the enormous growth of data, there’s a huge opportunity to harness that information to advance technologies. AI is the means through which this is accomplished.
Office 365 – MyAnalytics offers a rich dashboard of user data that highlights how users spend their time, which coworkers they interact with, and their effectiveness in meeting group and individual goals.
Dynamics 365 – With AI, Microsoft’s CRM system will be able to deliver more relevant information on clients and prospects, shortening the sales cycle and improving customer satisfaction.
Cortana – Using natural language processing, the digital assistant performs tasks such as scheduling appointments, setting reminders, and answering questions using information found from the Bing search engine.

What does this mean for Microsoft’s customers?

Ultimately, these investments in Maluuba, and AI in general, support Microsoft’s mission to improve user productivity and collaboration with their products. While AI can seem obscure, there are many practical applications of these technologies.

  • Increase productivity
    Maluuba’s focus on natural language understanding will advance the functionality of Microsoft products. Cortana can give users weather, traffic, and schedule updates, but she can also find files, pull up contact information and perform web searches. While these functions are certainly helpful, what if agents could comprehend more in-depth requests, or make decisions based on all of the information at their disposal, and the actions that you have taken in the past? Imagine how much time would be saved if all relevant information to a project or task was readily available before you even knew you needed it.
  • Build smarter retention, migration, and deletion policies
    Another possible application of Maluuba’s contributions could be related to information management policies. Instead of having to create policies for data, and continually update and tweak them, what if policies transformed autonomously based on historical information, common sense, and rational decision-making built into the platform? If these ongoing administrative tasks can be managed intelligently by a machine, technology workers can be used in other capacities to grow their company.
  • Gain Value from Employee Turnover
    When an employee leaves a company, a massive amount of information and content produced by that user is ultimately wasted, because it’s not practical for companies and employees to spend their time sifting through, categorising, and determining the best way to use this information. With the human time constraint, it’s really a lost opportunity to gain more value from that ex-employee. Enter: extremely fast and intelligent machine learning with decision-making capabilities. A company could use this information and effectively prevent another employee from having to recreate content and ideas.

Artificial Intelligence technologies, and their deep integration with Microsoft applications and platforms, will continue to change and enhance the way we work and provide value for our clients. We predict many more AI acquisitions in Microsoft’s future.
Cogmotive is the leading global provider of enterprise level reporting and analytics applications for Office 365. Find out more now.