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The incredible technologies around artificial intelligence and cognitive services have recently created a lot of market excitement, positioning these technologies at the top of our customers’ minds. This creates an opportunity to re-engage with new strategies that enable them to gain efficiency, insight, and innovate.

In Enterprise Cloud Strategy, the book I wrote with Barry Briggs, we note that the resurgence of artificial intelligence (AI) is fueled largely by the vast amounts of storage and processing power available in the cloud. The ability to analyze data at cloud scale is certainly a driving force in what Christopher Bishop, Microsoft Technical Fellow and the Laboratory Director of the Microsoft Research Cambridge Lab, calls the most substantial transformation in computing, ever.

He describes the transformation as coming from two key developments:

  • A shift from human-crafted software solutions to solutions learned from data (machine learning).
  • A shift away from the view of computation as logic to one involving uncertainty expressed through probabilities (predictive analytics and machine learning).

According to IDC, investment in digital transformation initiatives will reach $2.2 trillion by 2019 (almost 60% more than this year) and by 2018, 75% of developer teams will include cognitive and AI functionality in one or more applications. That’s clearly a huge opportunity for Microsoft Partners to leverage and extend their services on.

Research and Platforms to Build on

With breakthrough advances in AI research and the power of the cloud, Microsoft is delivering a flexible platform for organizations and developers to infuse intelligence into their products and services. Tools and services like Microsoft Cognitive Services, Azure Machine Learning, and the Bot Framework provide the perfect research and platforms to build amazing AI services. Partners can integrate technologies from several AI disciplines such as computer vision and human language technologies to create end-to-end systems that learn from data and experience.

I’m very proud of the work coming out of Microsoft Research AI and the real-world application of many of their projects. For example, several machine reading comprehension projects have great potential for customer support and customer relationship management scenarios. In healthcare, machine reading systems can help doctors quickly find information about a disease or help with the tedious research done in systematic reviews.

IoT Meets Machine Learning

Opportunities for partners are surfacing at the intersection where big data and machine learning meet the Internet of things (IoT) to deliver new insights from a vast number of connected devices, which in turn generate massive amounts of data.

While IoT used to be focused on manufacturing processes, IoT devices are everywhere now. New ways of analyzing and taking action based on IoT data is driving completely new business models.

Gartner expects 8.4 billion IoT-connected devices to be in use worldwide within the year. Additionally, IDC predicts that by 2019, 100% of all effective IoT efforts will be supported by cognitive or AI capabilities. The partner opportunity is huge for building new solutions that take advantage of data at scale to deliver IoT insights.

Harnessing those insights for specific industries and vertical markets will require a partner ecosystem. For example, you’ve no doubt seen or heard of automobiles equipped with sensors to deliver situational awareness about traffic, road conditions, and vehicle performance, to make autonomous driving possible. That’s IoT on wheels. Using machine learning algorithms, computer vision, and other sensor information, the car can make decisions and act on its sensory information. Combine that with real-time information from the cloud and the same vehicle can make routing decisions to get to the destination faster and safer.

Connect the Bots

Applications that communicate with humans using language and act as automated agents, called bots, make new forms of customer relationships and intimacy possible. With so much data being stored, it can be a challenge for your customers to find what they’re looking for. It’s easier to just ask a bot where to find the information needed, bypassing the often complex navigation process. Business Insider predicts that business bots are going to be one of the biggest tech trends this year.

Connecting bots to corporate data sources can not only help users accomplish tasks faster, but they are yielding new ways of using the data. Microsoft partner and event app provider Eventbase recently launched its event bot, Abby, designed to deliver a conversational-style user experience and help event attendees navigate a large event ecosystem. Abby understood user preferences and context to provide content and even session recommendations.

AI in Healthcare

Microsoft India has collaborated with L V Prasad Eye Institute to launch Microsoft Intelligent Network for Eyecare (MINE), a global consortium of like-minded commercial, research, and academic institutions to apply AI to help in the elimination of avoidable blindness and scale delivery of eye care services worldwide. The partner organizations will collaborate and collectively work on diverse datasets of patients across geographies to come up with machine learning predictive models for vision impairment and eye disease.

In China, medical intelligence startup Airdoc is using Microsoft Azure cloud services, Microsoft Cognitive Services and Microsoft Cognitive Toolkit for a technology that rapidly and accurately detects the onset of diabetic retinopathy, a complication of diabetes that can lead to blindness without proper treatment, from photos of patients’ retinas.

Microsoft recently released version 2.0 of the Microsoft Cognitive Toolkit, a free, open source toolkit that trains deep learning algorithms to learn like the human brain. In addition to the Cognitive Toolkit, developers can access a suite of cloud applications via Microsoft Azure, such as machine-learning APIs, via Microsoft Cognitive Services.

Predictive analytics provider Cognisess used Azure and Microsoft Cognitive Services to build a job performance analytics platform to help its customers predict future performance, retention, and development needs of their employees and candidates. The machine learning and AI solution can calculate millions of data points across 8 performance areas and more than 100 attributes.
Our goal is to accelerate the evolution of AI, machine learning, and IoT while making the technology more accessible and sharing the business opportunity with partners.

We’d love to hear how you are helping your customers mine information in new ways, at cloud scale, using machine learning, IoT, and cognitive services. Share your process with the Microsoft Partner Community here.