Microsoft Build 2018 Day 1: Azure meets Artificial Intelligence

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Microsoft’s kicked off Build 2018, their annual developer conference in style, with some interesting announcements related to coupling their existing products – mainly Microsoft Azure – with trending technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, IoT, Blockchain, and more. Held in Seattle, Washington over 7th and 8th May, this tech extravaganza promises to give away some exciting insights into Microsoft’s strategy for the coming year.

Here is a quick recap of all the major announcements from Day 1:

Azure IoT Edge open-sourced

Microsoft open-sourced its Azure IoT Edge Runtime platform for their developers, in a bid to deliver cloud intelligence across all their IoT devices. Combining the power of Artificial Intelligence and the Azure services through this platform, Microsoft plans to connect over 20 billion devices globally by 2020.

Microsoft also announced their partnership with Qualcomm to create smart camera-based IoT solutions, by combining the hardware from the Qualcomm Vision Intelligence Platform and the Azure services. They will also be teaming up with the China-based drone giants DJI to build a new drone SDK for Windows 10. Azure will be the official cloud solution for DJI’s commercial solutions which will utilize the AI services offered by Microsoft to analyze data for their customers.

Last but not the least, Microsoft announced the first Azure Cognitive Service for the edge. Using this feature, the developers will be able to deploy AI algorithms to build powerful applications that run on these devices.

Kinect returns – this time on Azure

The Kinect is back! This time however, things are a bit different. Built on a technology that also runs the Microsoft Hololens, Kinect will now run on Azure rather than on the Xbox. This new and improved project will have a next-gen camera and a dedicated processor designed to handle the AI tasks to process significant amount of data before it is put up on the Azure cloud.

It is worth remembering that Microsoft had also attempted to bring Kinect to the enterprise, way back in 2011, but the project failed miserably and was suspended in 2017. With a different approach this time, Microsoft are hoping to make this a resounding success.

New Blockchain tools for Azure

In a bid to simplify Blockchain app development on the cloud, Microsoft has announced a new Azure service called Azure Blockchain Workbench. This service will connect the decentralized applications to the Azure cloud services such as Azure Active Directory, and will dramatically reduce the overall development time.

This workbench will equip Blockchain developers with all the necessary tools to develop end-to-end Azure-based Blockchain applications without any hassle.

Project Brainwave for deep learning acceleration

Microsoft released a public preview of the highly anticipated Project Brainwave – a deep neural network processing solution designed to make Azure the fastest cloud to run deep learning and other AI-based solutions.

Per Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft who made this announcement, Brainwave will equip the developers with the necessary processing power to deploy machine learning and deep learning models with a higher performance potential, much beyond what they can expect from a CPU or GPU. Also, this project is expected to lead to five times lower hardware latency than Google’s TPU (Tensor Processing Unit).

Is Brainwave Microsoft’s answer to Google’s TPU? Check out our detailed comparison on the two chips.

Other important announcements on Day 1

Apart from these significant enhancements for Azure, Microsoft also announced a whole host of features to improve their other existing offerings, including Microsoft 365, Sharepoint, Excel, and Microsoft Bot Framework, among others. Here are the major announcements in this regard:

  • Integration of Amazon’s Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana for Windows devices
  • Windows Machine Learning, a new AI platform for developers to build machine learning models on the cloud was announced
  • Updated Microsoft Bot Framework was announced, with richer voice customization
  • Integration of Azure Search with Cognitive Services was announced, for quicker searches powered by Artificial Intelligence
  • Azure Kubernetes services will be integrated with the Azure IoT Edge for better container orchestration
  • Microsoft Excel will now support visualizations designed in Microsoft Power BI
  • Microsoft 365 will make it easier to customize and publish business applications, with the help of the Microsoft Teams API

In the midst of a major 3-way power struggle between Amazon, Google and Microsoft, these announcements made by Microsoft in the Build 2018 conference feel like a breath of fresh air, especially for the Microsoft developers. Their vision of transforming Microsoft’s cloud platform and other services into an intelligent cloud powered by Artificial Intelligence and other trending technologies seems to be well underway. It will be interesting to see what Google’s response will be in their Google I/O conference which will be underway tonight, and not to mention Amazon re:Invent 2018 which takes place later in the year.

Here are the highlights of day 1 of Microsoft Build in under 15 minutes, if you’re interested.

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Amey Varangaonkar
Data Science Enthusiast. A massive science fiction and Manchester United fan. Loves to read, write and listen to music.

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