Microsoft Creates New AI Lab to Take on DeepMind

Microsoft Creates New AI Lab to Take on DeepMind

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Microsoft is setting up a new research lab focused on artificial intelligence with the goal of creating more general-purpose learning systems, according to Bloomberg.

The new lab, called Microsoft Research AI, will be based at the company’s headquarters in Redmond, Washington, and involve more than 100 scientists from across various sub-fields of artificial intelligence research, including perception, learning, reasoning and natural language processing.

The goal, said Eric Horvitz, the director of Microsoft Research Labs, is to combine these disciplines to work toward more general artificial intelligence, meaning a single system that can tackle a wide-range of tasks and problems. Such a system, for instance, might be able to both plan the best route to drive through a city and also figure out how to minimize your income tax bill, while also understanding difficult human concepts like sarcasm or gestures. This differs from so-called narrow AIs, which are just designed to perform a single task well, for instance, recognize faces in digital photographs.

In entering the race to develop more general learning systems, Microsoft will be competing with other AI research companies, such as London-based DeepMind and San Francisco-based Google Brain, both divisions of Alphabet, as well as OpenAI, whose founders include Elon Musk and Peter Thiel, and GoodAI, a small research outfit in the Czech Republic.

"The field has undergone a tremendous amount of centrifugal force over the years," Horvitz said in an interview, noting how computer vision experts rarely talked to natural language processing experts or vice versa. The goal of the new Microsoft lab, he said, was to bring all these researchers back together and get them talking to one another and working on common goals.

In addition to its existing researchers, Horvitz said Microsoft plans to hire computer scientists and experts in fields such as cognitive psychology to join the new lab. The new Microsoft lab will also partner with the Center for Brains, Minds and Machines at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Horvitz said.

In addition, Microsoft said Wednesday it was creating a new project called AI for Earth that will provide $2 million in cloud-computing credits and training in machine learning techniques to scientists doing research on sustainability issues related to agriculture, water, biodiversity and climate change. The project is being led by Lucas Joppa, Microsoft’s chief environmental scientist.

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