Thursday, December 14, 2017
Microsoft: Think back to the early days of the Internet. Chances are, you used a search engine like you might previously have used a phone book: To find a specific piece of information, such as a website, address or phone number.
Technology has changed significantly in the years since, and so have our expectations for it. These days, people want more intelligent answers: Maybe they’d like to gather the pros and cons of a certain exercise plan or figure out whether the latest Marvel movie is worth seeing. They might even turn to their favorite search tool with only the vaguest of requests, such as, “I’m hungry.”
When people make requests like that, they don’t just want a list of websites. They might want a personalized answer, such as restaurant recommendations based on the city they are traveling in. Or they might want a variety of answers, so they can get different perspectives on a topic. They might even need help figuring out the right question to ask.
At a Microsoft event in San Francisco on Wednesday, Microsoft executives showcased a number of advances in its Bing search engine, Cortana intelligent assistant and Microsoft Office 365 productivity tools that use artificial intelligence to help people get more nuanced information and assist with more complex needs.
These offerings, which build on the progress Microsoft has made in the past year in integrating AI across its product line, are the most recent examples of how engineers and computer scientists are using AI to help people do much more than just classify information.
“AI has come a long way in the ability to find information, but making sense of that information is the real challenge,” said Kristina Behr, a partner design and planning program manager with Microsoft’s Artificial Intelligence and Research group.
Jordi Ribas, Microsoft’s corporate vice president in charge of AI products, noted that when people think of AI, they often think of robots or AI-powered vehicles. What many people don’t realize is that AI also is having a tangible, useful impact on most people’s day-to-day lives, through products like search or Office 365 that they use every day.
“AI has really been integrated into society for many years,” Ribas said. “Sometimes, people have been using AI for a long time and they don’t even realize it.”