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Microsoft doubles down on artificial intelligence in engineering reorganization

Harry Shum, EVP for Microsoft AI + Research

Two key letters show up throughout Microsoft’s major reorganization announcement this morning: AI.

Artificial intelligence will get even more emphasis as part of the company’s reshuffling of leadership and engineering divisions. In a memo to employees laying out the reorg, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella called out AI as one of the technologies that will “shape the next phase of innovation.” He continues: “AI capabilities are rapidly advancing across perception and cognition fueled by data and knowledge of the world.”

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The company’s AI + Research division, formed two years ago under the leadership of Harry Shum, remains intact, while the revamped cloud division will have a significant AI component as well. AI + Research, or AI + R in Microsoft for short, grew by 60 percent in the first year — from 5,000 people originally to nearly 8,000 people — through hiring and acquisitions, and by bringing aboard additional teams from other parts of the company. Microsoft wouldn’t say how many people work on AI + Research today.

AI + Research has a company-wide function, developing technological breakthroughs that are applied to products of all kinds.

Microsoft telegraphed its plan to make AI an even bigger part of the company last year. The Microsoft’s vision statement from 2017 specifically added a reference to artificial intelligence, saying its strategy is to build “best-in-class platforms and productivity services for an intelligent cloud and an intelligent edge infused with artificial intelligence.”

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Outside of the research side, two new teams focused on artificial intelligence will live under Scott Guthrie’s Cloud + AI group: AI Perception & Mixed Reality, led by Alex Kipman, and AI Cognitive Services & Platform, led by Eric Boyd. The first group is developing the core technologies used by Microsoft’s Mixed Reality device group and Azure customers working on augmented reality or virtual reality, while the second focuses on AI-driven cloud services that are made available to Azure customers.

AI has the potential to lead to breakthroughs, but it can also present problems. To alleviate negative consequences of the technology Nadella and Microsoft President and Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith have formed a new AI and Ethics in Engineering and Research group at the company. The group will bring together senior leaders from across company to address issues related to AI as they arise.

The group “will ensure our AI platform and experience efforts are deeply grounded within Microsoft’s core values and principles and benefit the broader society,” Nadella wrote. “While there is great opportunity, ensuring we always act responsibly for our customers and partners will continue to be a hallmark of our work.”

Microsoft doubles down on artificial intelligence in engineering reorganization
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