New Microsoft AI research group will try to make Cortana better

30 Sep 2016

Using Cortana on a Surface Pro. Image: ymgerman/Shutterstock

Microsoft is doubling down on its efforts to create better AI, with the establishment of a dedicated research group of over 5,000 staff to make Cortana and its other products much smarter.

The decision taken by Microsoft to form a department solely focused on AI is no surprise, given the recent announcement of its involvement in the newly formed Partnership on AI to benefit People and Society.

The partnership – that also includes Google, Facebook, Amazon and IBM, among others – is an attempt to democratise AI technology for the good of humankind.

However, this doesn’t prevent Microsoft from going it alone to compete with Google Now, Siri and Alexa in the intelligent personal assistant game.

In a statement, Microsoft said that the division of 5,000 staff will be led by Microsoft veteran Harry Shum, who has worked in research and Bing engineering within the company.

Aside from trying to make Cortana smarter, the group’s focus will be to improve the algorithms within its range of products, like its Office suite, as well as making services like Skype equally as intelligent.

Believes it has the best AI talent on Earth

Microsoft has also said that it wants to change the very fabric of the internet’s infrastructure, by ramping up efforts to make its cloud platform Azure more powerful and more available to people, as part of its AI partnership.

Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, said of this new focus: “We live in a time when digital technology is transforming our lives, businesses and the world, but also generating an exponential growth in data and information.”

One person who will not be working on this project is Qi Lu, the renowned head of engineering at Microsoft (and formerly of Yahoo), who has decided to leave the company for personal reasons.

However, taking on the new role, Shum said in his own blog post that the 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. I believe we have some of the best AI talent on the planet, and we’ll continue to attract even more.”

Using Cortana on a Surface Pro. Image: ymgerman/Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic