What we learned at Microsoft Future Decoded 2019

The use of artificial intelligence technology has taken a giant leap forward in a short space of time.

This was the main message from Microsoft’s recent Future Decoded event in London, where the company’s local leadership said that in the last year, AI usage has reached a new level of maturity beyond experimentation.

Microsoft UK CEO and Corporate Vice President, Cindy Rose OBE, gave an insight into real use cases, the direction that Microsoft UK is heading with AI, and how Microsoft is working with its customers and partners to help them achieve demonstrable AI results.

One example was the East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust, which is using an intelligent automation platform from Thoughtonomy running in Azure to relieve the administration burden many nurses face. By automating the basic work flow, the Trust freed up 300 hours of staff time in its first four weeks and 4,500 hours inside twelve months, which in turn increased hours spent on patients’ wellbeing.

The quick uptake and successful results, according to Microsoft, are down to Microsoft and the NHS Trust working closely together with a joint focus, as well as onboarding, training and engaging fully with nurses to minimize any concerns and anxiety about the adoption of AI.

Darren Atkins, CTO at East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Business leaders need to take responsibility and make sure that AI and other technologies are integrated in an ethical way. We have a diverse staff from different backgrounds, making it important to have an AI system that corresponds by taking that into account.”

Another example is that of OceanMind, a British company using satellites and artificial intelligence to help fisheries authorities and seafood buyers to understand the compliance requirements of fishing around the world. With the help of AI services in Azure and satellite imagery, it’s now possible to detect illegal fishing activities. OceanMind and Microsoft are also working to scale capabilities by training AI to detect slavery in the illegal fishing industry.

In the US, trucking manufacturer Paccar is using Microsoft Hololens to improve its onboarding as well as in-depth training systems for employees. Microsoft Hololens is a virtual reality (VR) headset with transparent lenses for an augmented reality experience.

Microsoft says Paccar’s use of the technology is an example of how it is now placing a greater emphasis on making sure AI is implemented throughout the whole of an organization.

While 45 years ago Microsoft’s aim was to place a PC in every home, the company is now focusing on using a wider variety of tools at its disposal to make our lives easier. Microsoft believes it is fundamental to align company culture and structure in adopting AI, as well as training companies to make their employees better at their jobs, as well as more confident, efficient, and comfortable. In turn, providing staff with the appropriate tools to spend more time on supporting customer needs is a sensible approach. In our view, stakeholders need to be aware of the fact that what is being done is ethical, in their interest and unbiased.

When we look at today’s level of concern among the general public about data privacy and security in the UK, caused at least in part by the recent revelations about Facebook and Cambridge Analytica. And there was also the news that the Royal Free Hospital handed over 1.6 million patient records as part of an application trial with AI firm DeepMind, that attracted censure from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) around patient data privacy, Microsoft is right to put these issues front and center of the current conversation around AI usage.

While some might have hoped for more news of leading edge AI capabilities during the event, perhaps Microsoft is doing exactly what the general public needs at a time of increasing mishandling and breaches of data: talking about its ability to help companies use AI to support an organization and its staff in a scalable yet ethical and secure manner.

Please note that teknowlogy Group will be publishing an updated profile on Microsoft's UK operation later this month.