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A global view of AI and Industry 4.0

Thu 24 Jan 2019 | Michael Wignall

We need to work as an industry with academics, lawmakers and the general public to ensure we harness the potential of the fourth industrial revolution, writes Microsoft UK CTO Michael Wignall

The fourth industrial revolution will have a profound impact on society and the macroeconomy, increasing productivity and output to a scale that is arguably greater than the three revolutions that came before it. Whereas steampower, electricity or the personal computer drove previous disruption it is digital technology that is powering the current change.

Of all the elements of digital, AI will be the main catalyst for growth. It will impact all consumers and business alike, across all industries and every country in the world. Such a systemic disruption needs to be managed to ensure we can provide the benefit of this technology to all.

Enterprise adoption

Microsoft recently surveyed over 5000 people for its report “Maximising the AI Opportunity” and found that while 41 percent of organisations feel their current business models will cease to exist within the next five years, 51 percent of leaders believe that their organisation does not have an AI strategy in place. The same amount of employees admit they are currently not using any type of AI to perform tasks at work.

Some organisations have gotten started though, and the research shows they are performing five percent higher than companies that have not yet started their AI journeys: driving higher productivity, improved customer service and better performance.

Technological milestones

Over the past two years with developments in deep learning as well as increased data and compute capabilities, we have seen AI reach human parity in key areas like vision, speech and language. These were key milestones but we can only expect the capability to get better as these systems reason over more data over time.

We are not quite there yet, but AI will become truly ubiquitous. It is already widely used in many places but people just don’t realise it. It drives your mapping technology on your phone, it helps remove spam from your inbox and supports matchmaking when gaming on the Xbox.

Microsoft expects to continue to see it become more widespread and embedded in all sorts of technologies. Microsoft is doing this themselves by building AI capabilities into its own products.

Alongside existing capabilities like the antivirus in Windows Defender, we are adding features like Skype translator to allow people to talk to each other across different languages, and a presentation translator which adds subtitles to your PowerPoint presentations as you are speaking.

“Our goal is to democratise AI like we did with the personal computer, and allow businesses big and small to take advantage of this AI revolution”

We have also including capabilities like ‘My Analytics’ in office to enable people to better understand how they are using their work time, who they connect with most often, and suggest further connections for them to make.

Alongside building AI into our own products and technologies we are also proving AI platforms for our customers to innovate. Our goal is to democratise AI like we did with the personal computer, and allow businesses big and small to take advantage of this AI revolution.

Role of the cloud

Cloud technologies are key to driving the growth of AI. Machine learning improves when it is trained over large data sets, and this training requires considerable compute. The cloud provides cost-effective scalability and flexible data storage and compute capabilities that enable an organisation to create their own models and utilise AI in their business.

Microsoft is also developing specialised hardware and utilising capability such as FPGAs (Field Programmable Gate Arrays) which are optimised for AI training. These services are offered in the cloud to further support efficient AI capabilities. We do find however that many organisations want to train their AI in the cloud, but deploy the capabilities on-premises or “the edge”, and we support this flexible deployment as well.

AI Ethics

A little over a year ago Microsoft published “This Future Computed: Artificial Intelligence and its role in society,” which outlines the core ethical principles that we believe should be used for the basis of AI projects.

These include; fairness, reliability & safety, privacy & security, inclusiveness, transparency, and accountability, all of which are key considerations we should consider when developing AI solutions.

Field-programmable gate array: An integrated circuit designed to be configured by a customer or a designer after manufacturing

Ethical considerations will continue to evolve and as the technology changes, however, we firmly believe that organisations should put in to place similar codes of practice. We need to work as an industry with academics and lawmakers as well as the general public to ensure AI helps society as a whole and drives the benefits we believe will result out of the 4th industrial revolution.

Join me at Cloud Expo Europe.

Michael is presenting at this year’s Cloud Expo Europe, taking place at the ExCeL London March 12-13th. CEE and its colocated events attract over 20,000 IT industry professionals.

Experts featured:

Michael Wignall



AI Cloud fourth industrial revolution industry 40 IoT
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