Microsoft Exec Forecasts Boom In Artificial Intelligence-Powered Personal Assistants

Microsoft Taiwan General Manager Ken Sun (Crystal Chiang, courtesy of Microsoft)

CRYSTAL CHIANG, COURTESY OF MICROSOFT

You’d expect Microsoft’s offices to be wired with some snappy technology. When it comes to booking a meeting room, Microsoft employees can tell an artificial intelligence-powered (AI) bot how many people need to sit down at what time and the bot will return ideas for the best spaces based on the headcount plus availability. The American software giant envisions that sort of AI making its way into medical exam rooms, PowerPoint slides and other companies' administrative offices over the next five years, says Ken Sun, general manager of Microsoft Taiwan where a lot of the research is being done.

Artificial intelligence technology, better known as AI, refers to making machines react and process information, often based on giant data reserves, much as people do.

“It’s super exciting,” Sun says in an interview. “The way we see AI amplifying human intelligence is just amazing. It brings productivity to the work environment in ways we’ve never imagined before.”

Artificial intelligence replacing receptionists

Personal assistants, also called virtual assistants, normally present as software-and-speaker combos that understand people’s voice commands well enough to complete simple tasks, tech news and research service TechTarget says. Some can do dictation, read e-mails, schedule events and place calls, it adds.

Virtual assistants in the mass market include the Amazon Alexa, Apple's Siri and Google Now. Microsoft’s Cortana assistant comes in some countries with later versions of Windows.

More on Forbes: How Bias Distorts AI (Artificial Intelligence)

The global virtual assistant market totaled $2.3 billion last year on its way to $19.6 billion by 2025, Zion Market Research forecasts.

In January 2018, Microsoft picked Taiwan to grow its artificial intelligence business. It's focusing a lot of its research now on enterprise software. The firm has recruited 100 people since last year in Taiwan, a historic Asian tech hardware development hub, with a goal of 200 people on board within five years, to staff a $34 million Taiwan R&D center for AI.

Instant translation, prompts for doctors and gaming on more devices

Microsoft, a software icon with $110.4 billion in 2018 revenue and $35.1 billion in operating income, is working now to add its meeting-room assistance technology to enterprise software, Sun says.

The common user of Microsoft tools might also come across an AI aide when giving a PowerPoint presentation, Sun says. Someone presenting to a multi-lingual audience will be able to ask the aide for real-time translations in 60 languages and add that output as text to the slides.

AI-enabled aides should eventually make medical exams more efficient, Sun adds. Doctors will be able to check with their electronic aides for keywords based on a patient’s observable symptoms and use those words to come up with a diagnosis. The aide would say something such as “dizzy” or “high temperature” for the doctor to review, Sun says. The doctor won't be replaced, he says, but “we are making doctors more efficient,” he says.

Then there's Microsoft Hello, facial recognition software that will eventually log Windows users into their devices three times faster than a password can. The Taiwan office is dedicated to that feature, Sun says.

Microsoft should handily be able to develop personal assistants after breakthroughs to date such as a Chinese-language "personal-social" chat bot that gets answers right an average of 23 times, says Tracy Tsai, research vice president with Gartner in Taipei. Microsoft has also developed AI to do computer vision–extracting information from photos–and to help farmers today lower costs and improve yields through access to big data, to name a couple of projects.

“There are many things that Microsoft has done, primarily AI-powered personal aides,” Tsai says. “Part of the reason is due to its extensive experience over the years over personal computing for both professional and consumer users.”

Visitors gather at an Microsoft booth during the Computex trade show in Taipei on June 2, 2015. (Sam Yeh/AFP/Getty Images)

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Microsoft Taiwan General Manager Ken Sun (Crystal Chiang, courtesy of Microsoft)

CRYSTAL CHIANG, COURTESY OF MICROSOFT

You’d expect Microsoft’s offices to be wired with some snappy technology. When it comes to booking a meeting room, Microsoft employees can tell an artificial intelligence-powered (AI) bot how many people need to sit down at what time and the bot will return ideas for the best spaces based on the headcount plus availability. The American software giant envisions that sort of AI making its way into medical exam rooms, PowerPoint slides and other companies' administrative offices over the next five years, says Ken Sun, general manager of Microsoft Taiwan where a lot of the research is being done.

Artificial intelligence technology, better known as AI, refers to making machines react and process information, often based on giant data reserves, much as people do.

“It’s super exciting,” Sun says in an interview. “The way we see AI amplifying human intelligence is just amazing. It brings productivity to the work environment in ways we’ve never imagined before.”

Artificial intelligence replacing receptionists

Personal assistants, also called virtual assistants, normally present as software-and-speaker combos that understand people’s voice commands well enough to complete simple tasks, tech news and research service TechTarget says. Some can do dictation, read e-mails, schedule events and place calls, it adds.

Virtual assistants in the mass market include the Amazon Alexa, Apple's Siri and Google Now. Microsoft’s Cortana assistant comes in some countries with later versions of Windows.

More on Forbes: How Bias Distorts AI (Artificial Intelligence)

The global virtual assistant market totaled $2.3 billion last year on its way to $19.6 billion by 2025, Zion Market Research forecasts.

In January 2018, Microsoft picked Taiwan to grow its artificial intelligence business. It's focusing a lot of its research now on enterprise software. The firm has recruited 100 people since last year in Taiwan, a historic Asian tech hardware development hub, with a goal of 200 people on board within five years, to staff a $34 million Taiwan R&D center for AI.

Instant translation, prompts for doctors and gaming on more devices

Microsoft, a software icon with $110.4 billion in 2018 revenue and $35.1 billion in operating income, is working now to add its meeting-room assistance technology to enterprise software, Sun says.

The common user of Microsoft tools might also come across an AI aide when giving a PowerPoint presentation, Sun says. Someone presenting to a multi-lingual audience will be able to ask the aide for real-time translations in 60 languages and add that output as text to the slides.

AI-enabled aides should eventually make medical exams more efficient, Sun adds. Doctors will be able to check with their electronic aides for keywords based on a patient’s observable symptoms and use those words to come up with a diagnosis. The aide would say something such as “dizzy” or “high temperature” for the doctor to review, Sun says. The doctor won't be replaced, he says, but “we are making doctors more efficient,” he says.

Then there's Microsoft Hello, facial recognition software that will eventually log Windows users into their devices three times faster than a password can. The Taiwan office is dedicated to that feature, Sun says.

Microsoft should handily be able to develop personal assistants after breakthroughs to date such as a Chinese-language "personal-social" chat bot that gets answers right an average of 23 times, says Tracy Tsai, research vice president with Gartner in Taipei. Microsoft has also developed AI to do computer vision–extracting information from photos–and to help farmers today lower costs and improve yields through access to big data, to name a couple of projects.

“There are many things that Microsoft has done, primarily AI-powered personal aides,” Tsai says. “Part of the reason is due to its extensive experience over the years over personal computing for both professional and consumer users.”

Visitors gather at an Microsoft booth during the Computex trade show in Taipei on June 2, 2015. (Sam Yeh/AFP/Getty Images)

Getty

As a news reporter I have covered some of everything since 1988, from my alma mater U.C. Berkeley to the Great Hall of the People in Beijing where I followed Communist o...