AI Talk: This week in Microsoft

Nov. 8, 2019 / By V. “Juggy” Jagannathan, PhD

This week’s AI Talk…

Science fiction meets science reality?

Remember in the Superman movie when the bad guys were imprisoned in a plane of glass and banished to roam the Universe? Well, Microsoft just announced this week that their Project Silica has managed to do a proof of concept test wherein they encoded the entire Superman movie into a piece of glass! Well, not quite like what was depicted in the movie… but still. So, what’s the deal here? Microsoft has used laser optics and AI to store data in quartz glass which requires machine learning algorithms to read the data back that was engraved into the glass! The quartz glass is virtually indestructible, is immune to hot water and floods, can be thrown into a microwave oven and cannot be demagnetized. In short, it can provide an alternative way to store a vast library of assets – which is why this is a joint project with Warner Bros and Microsoft. Interesting—I guess not everything needs to be in the cloud…

Microsoft flexes its AI muscle

This week, Microsoft trots out all its new products and solutions at their annual Ignite conference. Over 25,000 techies attend this conference, held this year in Orlando. A slew of AI products and productivity enhancers were announced prior to the event, but the one that does some heavy lifting is Project Cortex. This tool, announced as part of Microsoft 365, will comb through all your emails, documents and reports and create a corpus of tagged data. From this rich data source, it will assemble Wikipedia like information nuggets. When they see a project term or acronym, anyone in the enterprise can click on it and be served a wiki-page of what that project is about, who the key persons involved are, etc. It comes with built-in security features to specify who has access to this information. Corporate customers will be getting access to this solution soon!

Is four-day work week in our future?

I heard it on NPR and saw a reference to it in the daily download from MIT Technology Review as well – the experiment conducted by Microsoft in Japan over the summer to try out a four-day work week. The company involved gave all 2,300 employees Fridays off during the experiment. Over the course of the experiment, the company says it observed a productivity boost of 40 percent. The employees were happier, electricity costs fell by 23 percent and there were 60 percent fewer printed pages (this one is a head scratcher!). Some counter veiling factors here are the employees were asked to be more vigilant in how they spent their time, most meetings were reduced to half-hour blocks, the number of people attending meetings was limited to five. They were also encouraged to use Microsoft Teams effectively and a bit of AI to analyze how they were using their time (Check out the tool they used). It is interesting to see the experiment succeeding, but Microsoft is saying this is a short-term experiment, unlikely to be adopted in a wide fashion any time soon, by Microsoft or any other company for that matter!

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V. “Juggy” Jagannathan, PhD, is Director of Research for 3M M*Modal and is an AI Evangelist with four decades of experience in AI and Computer Science research.