Microsoft’s New Venture Fund Deepens the Company’s Commitment to AI
Artificial intelligence will be key to optimizing big data, mobile, social media and the Internet of Things. Machine learning is being implemented in everything from warehouse management systems to cybersecurity platforms, accelerating the speed of innovation in IT. And Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon and Microsoft are in a race to monetize AI.
Microsoft announced this week that its venture arm has founded a fund that focuses solely on AI, and that its first investment will be in a startup called Element AI. Yoshua Bengio, a long-time pioneer in deep learning, started the Montreal-based lab and will receive an undisclosed sum from Microsoft Ventures.
"The kinds of companies in this fund will help people and machines work together to increase access to education, teach new skills and create jobs, enhance the capabilities of existing workforces and improve the treatment of diseases, to name just a few examples," Nagraj Kashyap, who heads Microsoft Ventures, wrote in a blog post.
Bengio, who teaches computer science at the University of Montreal, is one of the foremost experts on how to teach computers to think like humans—think IBM Watson or the ethical debate around self-driving cars. Element works in conjunction with enterprises and research institutions to develop deep learning technology.
The fund is another in a line of actions Microsoft has taken to establish a firm foothold in the AI space. In November, the company partnered with OpenAI, the research group founded by Tesla inventor Elon Musk. The more such partnerships Microsoft embraces, the more it can boost its other revenue streams by utilizing its own technology like hosting data and running experiments on its Azure cloud, or optimizing its virtual-assistant Cortana in its consumer products. The technology can also help it leverage other verticals like healthcare, finance and education.
The channel might be using AI without really thinking about it. Many security and management systems utilize machine learning to continuously improve results and speed processes the more they’re used. It might seem like a far-distant future that partners don’t need to concern themselves with yet, but it’s already a big part of enterprise tech—and it’s quickly becoming an integral part of future success in the channel.