Artificial intelligence (AI) is making its way from science fiction to reality, in applications like self-driving cars, personal AI systems like Cortana, Siri, and Google Assistant, and home assistants like Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home. AI is also under some pressure from people who fear its impact on society in terms of privacy and job security.
A number of efforts are underway to both ensure that AI is developed with society’s concerns in mind and to help assuage those concerns as more and more people are exposed to AI in their daily lives. Today, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella spoke about a number of AI concerns during an interview at the DLD conference in Munich, as Bloomberg reports.
Microsoft is, of course, one of the leaders in applying AI in real-life applications, and so far the company is focusing on how AI can help make us more productive. That’s in line with the company’s “cloud-first, mobile-first” productivity solutions strategy, and it’s apparent in a number of Microsoft initiatives including the most obvious example, the personal AI assistant Cortana.
Nadella outlined Microsoft’s objectives with AI, saying, “The fundamental need of every person is to be able to use their time more effectively, not to say, ‘let us replace you.’ This year and the next will be the key to democratizing AI. The most exciting thing to me is not just our own promise of AI as exhibited by these products, but to take that capability and put it in the hands of every developer and every organization.”
According to Nadella, Microsoft’s objective with regard to AI is to use it to enable developers and others to use the same AI tools that Microsoft is building into its own products. AI can help us be more productive in getting things done but shouldn’t replace us. AI shouldn’t just be “parlor tricks” stuffed into increasingly massive systems that don’t “preserve workers’ dignity.”
AI is a focus of a number of leading technology companies, including Amazon with its Web Services offering AI for businesses and Google’s Translate service that uses neural networks to provide more accurate and lifelike translation. According to Nadella, Microsoft is also focused on business-oriented AI via its Azure cloud computing products and tools, but has a particular perspective. “We should be competitive there and we should be pushing there and we will be doing that,” Nadella said. “But what’s Microsoft’s unique contribution beyond doing that is democratizing the access to the same tools that we use for ourselves so that every developer can use them to create their own intelligence.”
It’s this process of “democratization” that Nadella purports will allow Microsoft to avoid some of the potential pitfalls of AI that have some people so worried. That’s likely a good thing, because it’s clear that Microsoft has no intention of slowing down with its investments in making AI a larger part of our lives.