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Microsoft Forms Massive AI Research Group

Microsoft this week announced the formation of a new business group aimed at fulfilling its goal, as CEO Satya Nadella stated at this week's Ignite conference, of "democratizing AI."

The new Microsoft AI and Research Group, unveiled on Thursday, will comprise over 5,000 engineers and computer scientists tasked with advancing Microsoft's AI and related efforts. The new unit will fuse the 25-year-old Microsoft Research team with Microsoft's Bing and Cortana, Ambient Computing and Robotics, and Information Platform groups.

The group will be led by Executive Vice President Harry Shum, who has held multiple leadership positions in various Microsoft product groups in his 20 years at the company.

"The new group will provide greater opportunity to accelerate our innovation in AI, and to enable Microsoft to create truly intelligent systems and products for our customers," Shum wrote in a separate post.

The formation of the new group and Shum's appointment to its helm comes as Microsoft reshuffles some of its executive leadership. As reported Thursday by ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley and others, Executive Vice President Qi Lu has decided to step down due to health issues. Lu had been the head of Microsoft's Applications and Services Engineering group, and was responsible for the development of several Microsoft productivity solutions -- including Office, Office 365, SharePoint, Exchange, Skype and Bing -- as well as the Cortana digital personal assistant.

According to Foley, citing an internal e-mail from Nadella to Microsoft employees, the Bing and Cortana responsibilities previously handled by Lu will be folded into Shum's new research unit. The Skype and Office responsibilities will now belong to Corporate Vice President Rajesh Jha. Meanwhile, Gurdeep Singh Pall, the longtime head of Microsoft's Lync and Skype product teams, will be transitioned into a new but unspecified role.

Lu will remain at Microsoft after his recovery as a "personal advisor" to Nadella and former CEO and current board member Bill Gates, Nadella said in his e-mail.

The creation of an entire business group focused solely on AI underscores the overarching themes from Microsoft's Ignite conference this week, where Nadella promised to "[infuse] intelligence into everything we deliver -- from the agent to applications, services and infrastructure." Case in point was Nadella's announcement that the Azure public cloud platform, after two years of extensive infrastructure and network investments by Microsoft, is now effectively an "AI supercomputer."

Microsoft also this week became a founding member -- alongside IBM, Facebook, Amazon and Google -- of an AI best practices group called Partnership on AI.

"We are on the cusp of a paradigm shift in computing that is unlike anything we have seen in decades. This will lead to artificial intelligence...being infused broadly into our computing platforms and experiences. Advanced algorithms, hyper-scale compute capacity, and the ability to work across massive data sets are what enable us to drive this change in everything we do for customers," Nadella wrote in his e-mail, adding that the formation of the AI and Research Group is a bid to "accelerate this vision."

About the Author

Gladys Rama (@GladysRama3) is the editor of Redmondmag.com, RCPmag.com and AWSInsider.net, and the editorial director of Converge360.

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