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Microsoft Puts New Research Group at Head of AI Exploration

The race to explore the frontiers of artificial intelligence is heating up like never before. Sure, we've programming artificial intelligence into games and applications for decades now. However, next-gen artificial intelligence, such as some of the systems that were featured in IBM's Jeopardy-winning supercomputer, Watson, provide much greater potential than anything we've seen thus far.

Not to be outdone, Microsoft has recently established the Microsoft AI and Research Group as a means of developing the technology further, increasing consumer accessibility and, hopefully, bringing the concept of advanced artificial intelligence to the average household.

Harry Shum, a 20-year veteran and executive vice president with Microsoft's AI and Research Group, recently expressed his thoughts on the newfound Microsoft AI and Research Group as well as their push for the exploration of advanced AI. He was quoted as saying: "Microsoft has been working in artificial intelligence since the beginning of Microsoft Research, and yet we've only begun to scratch the surface of what's possible. This move signifies Microsoft's commitment to deploying intelligent technology and democratizing AI in a way that changes our lives and the world around us, for the better. We will significantly expand our efforts to empower people and organizations to achieve more with our tools, our software and services, and our powerful, global-scale cloud computing capabilities."

Instead of pioneering new avenues and applications for AI, however, the current focus of the Microsoft AI and Research Group is centered on integrating advanced AI functionality into their existing products and services. For example, Microsoft's digital personal assistant, Cortana, could utilize next-gen artificial intelligence to supplement its current level of interaction. Machine-based, vision and speech analytics could also be improved through future AI research.

The use of artificial intelligence goes much further than video games and smartphone applications. In fact, Microsoft has recently unveiled the world's very first AI-based supercomputer. Nicknamed Project Catapult, the supercomputer relies on a number of field programmable gate arrays, also known as FPGAs, which have been installed in various servers within a total of 15 different countries. The project, which is several years in the making, is a remarkable feat.

Doug Burger, principal hardware development engineer with Microsoft Research, spoke about the usefulness of field programmable gate arrays in a recent article by stating: "What that means is you get the efficiency of hardware but you also get flexibility because you can change their functionality on the fly. This new architecture that we’ve built effectively (put) an FPGA-based AI supercomputer into our global, hyperscale cloud. We get awesome speed, scale and efficiency. It will change what’s possible for AI."

As you can see, the concept of artificial intelligence is constantly growing, evolving and expanding with the times. With the enhanced functionality of today's video games and modern computer applications that are capable of handling processes and tasks that weren't even possible just a few years ago, it's anybody's guess as to where the exploration of next-gen AI might take us. Moreover, the implications of such technology, both on behalf of consumers as well as businesses, governments and other entities, have yet to be fully realized.

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