Microsoft and Jio: Accelerating India’s digital progress

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Today we announced a comprehensive long-term alliance with Reliance Jio Infocomm Limited (Jio), a subsidiary of Reliance Industries Limited. This is an exciting advancement that will accelerate India’s digital transformation and bring the latest technologies to millions of businesses across the country. This alliance represents a unique collaboration between our two organizations.

Jio has transformed the communication and data landscape here in India, connecting more than 340 million people in the country with the power of affordable data. Microsoft has helped businesses revolutionize the global landscape of digital transformation with the worldview of intelligent cloud and intelligent edge. With a solid foundation of trust, we’re committed to accelerating the pace of innovation and delivering more value to every customer, be it large enterprises, SMBs, startups or consumers, and our partners.

This unique alliance also reinforces our commitment to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.

Earlier today, this announcement was shared as part of the Reliance Industries Annual General Meeting where Reliance Chairman and Managing Director Mukesh D. Ambani shared the news. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella shared his thoughts as well and reinforced our enthusiasm for the work we will do together and the potential benefits our alliance can bring to organizations across India, and to the country itself.

YouTube Video

What this means for businesses 

India has one of the largest small and medium business markets in the world, which continues to grow significantly. Small and medium businesses in India will have access to a range of cloud-based productivity, collaboration and business applications including Office 365, enabling them to compete more effectively in the Indian marketplace. This collaboration will accelerate innovation to create more affordable offerings for Indian SMBs and startups, including a new range of solutions for one-stop IT capabilities and allowing front-end applications on mobile devices, desktops and other tools.

Jio will build new custom solutions on Microsoft Azure for large enterprises who have already benefited from our technology platforms. Companies will also have easy and affordable access to best-in-class technologies like data analytics, AI, cognitive services, blockchain, IoT and edge computing to accelerate India’s digital transformation and enable grassroots innovation.

Jio will also leverage Microsoft’s speech and language cognitive services for its device ecosystem, providing support in 13 Indian languages, with the flexibility to add other languages. Its internal workforce will now leverage the cloud-based Microsoft 365 productivity and collaboration tools and all their non-network applications will also move to the Microsoft Azure cloud platform.

For the partner ecosystem in India, these new offerings create more avenues for greater innovation, deeper customer relationships and exponential growth for their businesses. And in a diverse nation of 1.3 billion people united by the power of digital, the solutions this collaboration will bring around connectivity, computing, storage and tech services will redefine how we empower employees, enable customers, transform products and optimize operations.

This joint effort is likely to unlock and accelerate digital innovation in India at an unprecedented scale. I look forward to working with and learning from our current and new customers and partners as we chart a new path with this alliance.

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Harnessing the power of AI to transform agriculture

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What did you have for breakfast today? Depending on where you are reading this, you may have started your morning with coffee and pastries; a smoothie and sourdough toast; perhaps a bowl of congee. Or maybe you skipped it altogether because you were in a hurry. Whatever you chose to do, you probably did not give it much thought.

Yet in a world with a finite amount of arable land, and a population that is expected to grow from 7.7 billion to nearly 10 billion by 2050, producing enough food to eat is a challenge today and a potential crisis in the future. As the population expands and diets change, farmers will need to increase food production by about 70 percent. The question is: how? Finding the right answers is one of humanity’s most pressing issues. AI can be part of the solution.

AI is already transforming agriculture

Already, AI is beginning to transform agriculture in important ways. Many farmers who manage large-scale operations are taking advantage of innovative technologies like self-driving tractors that use GPS, satellite imagery, and AI to plant more efficiently; and sensors and machine learning to make smarter decisions about when to irrigate and how much fertilizer to apply.

But what about the majority of farmers who have less than one hectare of arable land (or a little less than 2.5 acres), and who produce 70 percent of the world’s food supply? Many of them live in low-resource communities with limited access to even basic digital technology. Can AI improve their ability to grow food to feed a hungry world? Yes, it can.

The AI sowing app – How to improve a groundnut harvest

A pilot project in Andhra Pradesh on the southeast coast of India offers a hint of what is becoming possible. In an area of small, subsistence farms where growers have always relied on a combination of ancient traditions and guesswork to decide when to plant, Microsoft is working with the nonprofit International Crop Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) to enable farmers to take advantage of the power of AI to increase yields. Last year, ICRISAT received a Microsoft AI for Earth grant to support continued development of AI solutions that focus on sustainable agriculture in developing parts of the world.

The AI Sowing App we’ve developed together draws on more than 30 years of climate data, combined with real-time weather information, and then uses sophisticated forecasting models powered by Azure AI to determine the optimal time to plant, the ideal sowing depth, how much farm manure to apply, and more. That information is then shared with farmers through text messages that they receive on a basic feature phone.

In the pilot’s first year, 175 groundnut farmers participated. Most farmers in the region planted in early June, as dictated by custom and tradition. Farmers who used the AI Sowing App delayed planting by three weeks. For those who waited, the results were dramatic—on average they harvested 30 percent more per hectare than farmers who planted at the beginning of June. In the second year, the program was expanded to more than 3,000 farmers and covered a much wider range of crops, including maize, rice, and cotton. Average increases ranged from 10 percent to 30 percent, depending on the crop and the location.

Rows of crops growing at SnoValley Tilth Farm in Carnation, WA
Rows of crops growing at SnoValley Tilth Farm in Carnation, WA. (Photo by John Brecher for Microsoft)

Project FarmBeats – A more sustainable way to farm

Microsoft is involved in another project that has important implications for the future success of small farms. Called Project FarmBeats, the initiative was launched at Dancing Crow Farm, not far from Microsoft’s headquarters. There, on a few acres of rich agricultural land, Dancing Crow’s owner Sean Stratman is exploring a new approach to agriculture that uses sensors to measure soil moisture and temperature along with drones to gather aerial imagery, and then feeding all that data into cloud-based AI models that provide a precise, up-to-the-minute picture of the conditions on his farm, down to the square meter.

With this level of precise knowledge, Stratman is able to make pinpoint decisions about when to plant, when to water, how much fertilizer to apply, when to harvest, and more for each small section of his farm. It’s an approach that is saving labor, reducing costs, and improving output. And it is pointing the way toward a future where farms of all sizes can produce more food, operate sustainably, and generate greater profits.

Reducing our 1.3 billion tons of food waste

According to the UN, increasing production is only part of the answer to the problem we face in feeding the world’s growing population. Almost as important is to reduce the amount of food that is wasted every year. The Food and Agricultural Organization estimates that one-third of all food produced for human consumption—1.3 billion tons—is wasted annually. Here, I believe AI can play a huge role. One way it will have an impact is by ensuring that highly-perishable foods such as milk make it from the farm to the processing plant quickly and safely.

This is an important focus of a pioneering AI-based operations management system that is improving efficiency, ensuring safety, and lowering costs for a brand-new milk processing and manufacturing facility operated by ACM in Girgarre, a small town in Australia. Designed to handle 200 million liters of milk, the facility uses a state-of-the art information system built on Microsoft Dynamics 365 and Azure Cognitive Services to automate the process of pumping milk from tanker trucks to silos – monitoring quality, and creating a rich data trail so the milk can be tracked from the farm to the store.

ACM has also implemented a sophisticated temperature monitoring system that uses sensors and Microsoft technologies including Azure and SQL to detect temperature fluctuations in storage tanks and trucks, sending alerts to farmers and drivers. If the system senses an electrical failure on a farm, for example, it can automatically dispatch trucks to collect the milk before it spoils.

The potential economic implications of these technologies extend far beyond the farms currently being served. Australia ranks fourth in the world in global market share for dairy exports, behind New Zealand, the EU, and the United States. Overall, Australia’s (AUD) $4.3 billion dairy industry – the country’s third largest rural industry – employs more than 42,000 people. The opportunities to increase production and improve efficiency could bring more jobs and greater prosperity to rural communities in the dairy farming regions of southeastern and southwestern Australia where the climate is particularly suitable for raising cattle.

Initiatives like this one in Australia and the pilot projects in Andhra Pradesh and Washington State offer an early indication of how we can empower farmers on farms of every size and in every part of the world to increase yield in ways that are better for the environment. Taken together, I believe they offer a reason to be optimistic that we will be able to feed the world.

Read about how AI is also transforming healthcare.

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IoT Signals report: IoT’s promise will be unlocked by addressing skills shortage, complexity and security

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We’re living amid an invisible revolution driven by the Internet of Things (IoT). This revolution goes far beyond the smart speakers and thermostats in homes and includes billions of connected devices and sensors that are transforming every industry on the planet, from manufacturing to energy distribution, from smart cities to smart agriculture, from smart buildings to smart medical equipment – and so much more. IoT is also starting to have a profound and beneficial impact on the planet, reducing energy and natural resources as well as improving sustainability.

IDC expects that by 2025 there will be 41.6 billion connected IoT devices or “things,” generating more than 79 zettabytes (ZB) of data[i]. These billions of devices are creating unprecedented visibility into a business, leading to transformation of operations, energy, products and workplace safety, to name just a few areas.

Today we’re launching a new annual report – IoT Signals – that provides an industry pulse on the state of IoT adoption to help inform how we better serve our partners and customers, as well as help business leaders in development of their own IoT strategies. We surveyed more than 3,000 IoT decision-makers in enterprise organizations to give the industry a holistic, market-level view of the IoT ecosystem, including adoption rates, related technology trends, challenges and benefits of IoT.

What the study found is that while IoT adoption is on the rise and opening the door to business transformation, companies are being held back by skills shortages, project complexity and security challenges. To summarize the findings:

  1. IoT is seen as profitable and critical to business success and is creating opportunities to leverage more advanced cloud and networking technologies. Nearly nine in 10 (85%) surveyed are in IoT adoption and 88% see IoT as critical to business success. We heard from businesses adopting IoT that they believe they will see a 30% ROI on their IoT projects going forward. As they look ahead, respondents believe critical technology drivers for IoT success in the next two years are AI, edge computing and 5G, followed by digital twins and blockchain.
  2. Nearly all respondents (97%) have security concerns when implementing IoT, but this is not hindering adoption. Internet connectivity is a two-way street. With these devices becoming a gateway to our homes, workplaces, and industries, they also become targets for attacks. The cost of a data breach averages between $4M and $8M dollars, and the costs only compound as you think about additional damage to your brand and to the operational technology driving your business’s revenue. The top three security concerns we found among IoT adopters are: creating strong user authentications (43%), tracking and managing each IoT device (38%) and securing endpoints for each IoT device (38%).
  3. There is a skills gap for IoT solutions which is compounded by solution complexity. Almost half (47%) say there are not enough available skilled workers and one in four (38%) IoT adopters cite complexity/technical challenges to using IoT as a barrier to further their IoT adoption. Existing IoT complexities and lack of resources prevent IoT decision makers from more IoT adoption, and 20% cite complexity/technical challenges as a top challenge.

 Looking Ahead: Recommendations for a Successful IoT Strategy

With security concerns mounting and IoT becoming more complex with the rise of AI, 5G and edge capabilities, how can companies create a digital strategy to transform their business with IoT successfully? We partnered with the BCG Group to narrow down the seven key ingredients for success:

  • Business strategy and rationale – Successful IoT projects start with a clear understanding of the business problems to be addressed, the investment needed and the return on investment that is expected.
  • Leadership and organization – Successful IoT projects have executive sponsors in the business unit the IoT project will impact to help bridge organizational boundaries, communicate the strategic vision for IoT and achieve broad alignment across all participating teams.
  • Technology roadmap planning – The companies that think about technology roadmaps and plan for the infrastructure needed to scale IoT solutions are better positioned for long-term success. Involve leadership early as proof of concepts are being developed and start to have those conversations around future-state technology needs.
  • Talent – Designing, deploying and operating IoT requires multi-disciplinary skills, and experience in IoT architecture, data science, security and AI/ML can be rare and challenging to attract for more traditional enterprises. Companies must craft their unique talent strategy to acquire or build capabilities in their workforce based on their starting point and the gaps they need to fill.
  • Operations and core business processes – IoT requires a mindset shift from thinking of IoT as a “one and done” effort to thinking of it as a fundamental change in the way the business is run. Enterprises should begin by ensuring that the core business processes affected by IoT are primed to capture value. In addition, they must be sure to involve frontline staff, such as manufacturing- or store-operations managers, in IoT initiatives from the start.
  • Partnerships and ecosystem – Business partnerships are critical to successful IoT deployments. Our IoT and intelligent edge ecosystem includes more than 10k partners and is growing. Partners can deliver critical industry expertise, making it easier to integrate solutions, share data, meet industry compliance needs and more. Companies with successful IoT implementations recognize the importance of establishing partnerships early and fostering these relationships over the course of their IoT journey.
  • Security as foundational – IoT security needs to be addressed at every layer – from the silicon layer to the cloud. It cannot be a bolt-on or an afterthought.

Microsoft is leading the charge to address these IoT challenges

We are committed to helping customers bring their vision to life across every industry with IoT, and this starts with simplifying and securing IoT. Our customers are embracing IoT as a core strategy to drive better business outcomes, and we are heavily investing in this space committing $5B in IoT and intelligent edge innovation by 2022 and growing our IoT and intelligent edge partner ecosystem to over 10k. And this investment is paying off with recent recognition as a leader by IDC in Industrial IoT platforms for manufacturing and energy[ii].

We are dramatically simplifying IoT to enable every business on the planet to benefit. We have the most comprehensive and complete IoT platform and are going beyond that to simplify IoT. Some key examples include Azure IoT Central, which enables customers and partners to provision an IoT app in seconds, customize it in hours and go to production the same day as well as our recently announced IoT Plug and Play, that dramatically simplifies all aspects of IoT device support and provides devices that “just work” with any solution. To help train IoT developers, we have developed both an IoT School and an AI school, which provides free training for common application patterns and deployments.

Security is crucial for trust and integrity in IoT cloud- and edge-connected devices because they may not always be in trusted custody. Azure Sphere takes a holistic security approach from silicon to cloud, providing a highly secured solution for connected MCUs, which go into devices ranging from connected home devices to medical and industrial equipment. Azure Security Center provides unified security management and advanced threat protection for systems running in cloud and on the edge. We have also contributed to and developed industry resources such as the Security Maturity Model and Seven Properties of Highly Secured Devices to help customers establish a set of best practices around IoT security.

Finally, we’re helping our customers leverage their IoT investments with AI and at the intelligent edge. Azure Digital Twins enables customers to create complete virtual models of physical environments, unlocking new opportunities in smart buildings, automotive, manufacturing, agriculture and more. Azure IoT Edge enables customers to distribute cloud intelligence to run in isolation on IoT devices directly and Azure Databox Edge builds on Azure IoT Edge and adds VM and mass storage support.

When IoT is foundational to a company’s transformation strategy, it can have significant positive impact on the bottom line, customer experiences and products. We are invested in helping our partners, customers and the broader industry to take the necessary steps to address barriers to success. Read more on the Microsoft Transform blog about what customers like Starbucks, Chevron, Bühler AG, Steelcase, Thyssenkrupp and more are driving their business forward with IoT.

[i] Worldwide Global DataSphere IoT Device and Data Forecast, 2019–2023, (Doc #US45066919), May 2019.

[ii] IDC MarketScape: Worldwide Industrial IoT Platforms in Manufacturing 2019 Vendor Assessment, (Doc #US45116819), June 2019.

 

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Microsoft acquires BlueTalon, simplifying data privacy and governance across modern data estates

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The data landscape has changed rapidly over the past few years, enabling tremendous opportunity for enterprises to digitally transform. Data estates are increasingly diverse with fit-for-purpose systems (NoSQL, RDBMs, Data Lakes & Big Data, SaaS apps, etc.) spanning on-premises and cloud environments capable of processing data of all shapes and sizes. This rapid evolution has empowered data professionals including data engineers, data scientists and data analysts to do much more, but at the same time has vastly increased the size and diversity of data estates, making data management and governance harder than ever. In fact, 57 percent of Gartner survey respondents cited “supporting data governance and data security” as one of the biggest challenges for their data management practice.1

At the heart of any digital transformation is making data discovery, access and use simple, secure, compliant and trustworthy. Data privacy is one of the defining issues of our time, as evidenced by the introduction and evolution of privacy laws across the globe (e.g., GDPR, CCPA, etc.). As technology becomes more engrained in our lives and our work, it must be simple to understand and control what data is collected and easily manage who has access to that data and for what purpose.

Today we are excited to announce the acquisition of BlueTalon, a leading provider of Unified Data Access Control solutions for modern data platforms. BlueTalon works with leading Fortune 100 companies to eliminate data security blind spots and gain visibility and control of data. BlueTalon provides a customer-proven, data-centric solution for data access management and auditing across the diverse systems resident in modern data estates.

The IP and talent acquired through BlueTalon brings a unique expertise at the apex of big data, security and governance. This acquisition will enhance our ability to empower enterprises across industries to digitally transform while ensuring right use of data with centralized data governance at scale through Azure.

Together with BlueTalon, we are committed to help enterprises become data-driven companies in a secure and compliant manner. We’re excited to welcome the BlueTalon team to Microsoft and can’t wait to get started. For more information, please see BlueTalon CEO Eric Tilenius’ blog post.

 

¹ Gartner Survey Analysis: Data Management Is Pressed Between Support for Analytics — and Data Governance, Risk and Compliance, Figure 3, Roxane Edjlali, March 22, 2018

 

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Looking back, looking ahead: Customers are driving capabilities for their business and people

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This week in Las Vegas, at Microsoft Inspire, our annual partner event, I had several conversations about  the year we’ve had and what is next for the industry, including opportunities to bring the latest innovations to our mutual customers. Together we are building incredible momentum, truly transforming industries and redefining the art of what is possible. As we move into this new fiscal year, I am particularly energized by the traction I see with open cloud engagements – and the collaborative nature of our partnerships with companies across the world.

This morning’s news of our extensive and multi-year strategic collaboration with AT&T is another example of partnering to deliver unique solutions for our mutual customers, leveraging the strength of AT&T’s network and our cloud expertise. We expect our customers to benefit across a range of scenarios where 5G can enable critical near-instantaneous communications across industries. For example, imagine a first responder using AI-powered live voice translation to quickly communicate with someone in need who speaks a different language. Microsoft will be AT&T’s preferred cloud provider for non-network applications on Microsoft Azure and support AT&T as it consolidates its data center infrastructure and operations. In addition, AT&T will provide most of its workforce with robust cloud-based productivity and collaboration tools with Microsoft 365.

Unilever, a company whose products touch 2.5 billion consumers every day, also made a big impression this week at Microsoft Inspire. Dave Penrith, chief engineer at Unilever, joined me onstage to showcase how digital is empowering the company’s nearly 155,000 employees globally to do their best work with Microsoft 365 (including Teams and Yammer). Unilever is also building custom apps that harness real-time insights from data with PowerApps and Power BI and using Azure IoT’s digital twin technology to represent the physical production lines in its Valinhos Dove factory to digitize its supply chain network.

Of course, Microsoft Inspire is just one moment in time. Over the past 12 months, we’ve made headway across a diverse set of customers and industries.

Earlier this year, in the health care industry, we announced a seven-year, strategic cloud partnership with Walgreens Boots Alliance (WBA). WBA will harness the power of Microsoft Azure, Microsoft’s cloud and AI platform, Microsoft 365, health industry investments and new retail solutions with WBA’s customer reach, convenient locations, outpatient health care services and industry expertise to make health care delivery more personal, affordable and accessible for people around the world. Most recently, UCLA Health shared how they are moving to our cloud to help speed research and improve patient care, and our new multi-year strategic alliance with Providence St. Joseph Health will harness the power of Azure and AI to deploy next-generation solutions in health care and power their employees with Microsoft 365 and Teams.

These are just some of the recent examples that highlight Microsoft’s customer-first approach. In fact, the world’s leading companies choose Azure for their mission-critical workloads, including more than 95 percent of the Fortune 500. In addition, this year we shared stories with retail industry leaders like Walmart, Kroger, Gap, Inc., Albertsons Companies, Starbucks, Neiman Marcus and Coles, and in the automotive industry with Daimler, BMW, Volkswagen and Renault Nissan Mitsubishi. With manufacturing, Airbus demonstrated how HoloLens and mixed reality are helping double its life-to-date aircraft production while improving quality, safety and security.

We continue to invest in technology partnerships to ensure Microsoft’s cloud is the best platform for our customers not only to access all their data, but to understand, process and act on that data to innovate.  Microsoft’s open cloud approach has been demonstrated time and again. We continue to advance our Open Data Initiative with SAP and Adobe, including progress announced earlier this year empowers customers like Coke, Unilever, Walmart and HP to build data models that meet their enterprise needs. In the past quarter, we announced a strategic partnership with Dell Technologies to provide customers with a fully native, supported and certified VMware experience on Microsoft Azure and the ability to extend Microsoft 365 and Windows Virtual Desktop. We announced a cloud interoperability partnership with Oracle using Azure services like Analytics and AI, and are continuing our work with Red Hat to make its extensive portfolio of technologies available on Azure. Plus, we announced last week that Service Now, running on Microsoft Azure, will enable enterprise customers in certain highly regulated industries, such as government, to accelerate their digital transformation and drive new levels of insights and innovation.

It is humbling to see all the ways our customers and partners are embracing technology. Whether large or small, companies are driving new experiences and solutions across every industry, redefining innovation and creating impactful change for the future of their businesses and employees. Their journeys are powerful, and we are fortunate to have the opportunity to be their trusted partners along the way.

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Harnessing the power of AI to transform healthcare

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One of the many remarkable things about artificial intelligence is that while we tend to think of it as something that will have a big effect in the not-too-distant future, it is already transforming people’s lives in profound and powerful ways today. In factories and warehouses, AI is improving workplace safety by scanning thousands of videos to detect potential risks. In the U.S., researchers are exploring how AI can help public health organizations around the world prevent the spread of deadly diseases like Ebola, Chikungunya, and Zika by detecting the presence of pathogens in the environment and stopping transmission to humans before outbreaks can begin.

I believe this is the true promise and challenge of AI – using these new technologies to create a healthier and safer world for everyone. Now that AI has given computers the ability to recognize words and images, discover patterns in complex systems and reason and learn much like people do, it is enabling our devices to behave more naturally and more responsively. This is transforming how we understand the world and augmenting our uniquely human talents and abilities in ways that will enable us to begin to find answers to some of humanity’s most pressing challenges.

This is particularly true when it comes to human health. Today, it is possible to imagine a world where we have discovered new approaches that enable us to address some of our most pressing challenges in healthcare, including heart disease, chronic illnesses, and cancer. The good news is that innovators around the globe are already working on these issues. From detection to preventive care and personalized medicine, the opportunities to us AI to improve outcomes and reduce costs appear to be nearly limitless.

Ethan Jackson, a Microsoft researcher who is leading Project Premonition. (Photo credit: Brian Smale)
Ethan Jackson, a Microsoft researcher who is leading Project Premonition. (Photo credit: Brian Smale)

In India, for example, Microsoft is proud to work with Apollo Hospitals, one of nation’s largest private healthcare companies, to use AI to improve detection of cardiac illnesses that cause more than 3 million heart attacks in that country every year. Until now, it’s been difficult for doctors to identify patients who are at risk for coronary disease because most prediction models are based on studies conducted in Europe and North America and don’t apply well to Indian populations. For example, high LDL cholesterol, which is a significant cause of heart attacks in western countries, is less common in India.

Our approach is to combine the rich data and deep expertise that Apollo offers with Microsoft’s powerful cloud and AI capabilities to develop a scoring system to identify patients in India who are at high risk for suffering a heart attack.

To do this, a team of Apollo clinicians and data scientist started by reviewing more than 400,000 patient records from its hospitals around the country and found that nearly 60,000 patients had suffered a cardiac event after a health checkup. The challenge was to uncover the risk factors in the data that existing models had overlooked. To do this, they uploaded all the data they had collected to the cloud using Microsoft Azure and then worked with Microsoft Azure Machine Learning services to search for hidden correlations.

The team started with 100 potential risk factors and 200 lab data points. Using the massive computing power of the cloud, they trained machine learning algorithms to find the statistical significance of each factor in the occurrence of future heart attacks. This enabled them to create a model that identified 21 risk factors in Indian populations. Dr. K. Shiv Kumar, Apollo Hospitals’ chief of Chief of Cardiology, said the resulting model is twice as accurate at predicting the probability of future coronary disease as previous models. Not only is this transforming how physician’s conduct preventive health checkups, but they are now developing an AI-powered app that would allow anyone to find their heart risk score without visiting a doctor for a detailed health checkup.

In China, Ray Zhang, CEO of  a startup company called Airdoc, recruited a team of engineers to develop an AI-based diagnostic tool that can instantly detect signs of chronic illnesses including diabetes, hypertension, arteriosclerosis, age-related macular degeneration, and more – simply by taking a high-resolution image of the back of the eye.

The device takes advantage of the fact that examining the human retina is an effective way to assess the health not just of the eye, but to look for evidence of other diseases. To create it, the Airdoc team used thousands of retinal scans to create an algorithm using Microsoft Azure’s machine learning capabilities that is trained to look for tiny abnormalities such as specks, spots, and deformed blood vessels that can be warning signs for a wide range of health issues.

The Airdoc device is similar to the scanner optometrists use for routine eye exams. To use it, a patient sit on a stool, place their chin on a padded brace, and look into an eyepiece. The algorithm then automatically adjusts the angle until a green cross comes into focus and captures a high-resolution, medical-grade image that is instantly uploaded to the cloud, where it takes less than a second to conduct a detailed analysis that rates susceptibility to a long list diseases as either low, medium, or high. The results are then sent to the patient’s smartphone, with a recommendation to seek professional medical help if there are signs of potential problems.

Currently, the Airdoc device can recognize signs of more than 30 diseases. Eventually, it will be able to detect 200. The plan is to make it available in more than 1,000 hundreds optical retail stores across China over the next few years. The Airdoc device significantly reduces the amount of time physicians will need to spend reviewing and assessing scans, so they can focus more on identifying and treating patients with serious health issues. The potential to provide a simple and inexpensive way to detect not just eye problems but a wide range of diseases has the potential to transform when and how people begin treatment for chronic illnesses in China and around the world.

We’re also working with the Princess Margaret Cancer Center at University Health Centre in Toronto to redefine cancer treatment through a remarkable new approach called “single cell sequencing” that enables doctors to analyze the genetic makeup of every single cell in a cancerous tumor and then select a combination of drugs that is optimized to kill the greatest number of cancer cells. Typically today, doctors try one drug at a time to find the most effective combination for each individual patient. By utilizing the power of Microsoft Azure Machine Learning and the cloud, single cell sequencing is enabling doctors to predict how every cell will respond to each of the thousands of compounds that are available for cancer treatment and then create a truly personalized therapy based on the specific genetic characteristics of each cancerous tumor.

Azure also provides a common platform for sharing medical data and analytic tools with researchers and physicians across the country. Scientists at Princess Margaret Cancer Center now envision a time in the not-to-distant future when this kind of detailed genomic analysis will be available for every patient in Canada.

These examples are just the beginning when it comes to the outpouring of AI research and innovation Microsoft and its partners are involved in right now – and not just in healthcare. In future posts, I look forward to sharing how Microsoft is also helping innovators and entrepreneurs use the power of AI to transform the industries of agriculture and education.

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Microsoft announces ICFJ immersive storytelling grantee winners

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In January 2019, we launched our journalism grant partnership with the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ). Our first recipients are already midway through their data journalism training and now I’m thrilled to introduce the recipients of the second phase of our program.   

Kelechukwu Iruoma and Ruth Olorounbi comprise a team investigating the toxic effects of oil spillage in Ogoniland, Nigeria, which has led to poisoned farmlands and compromised reproductive health. An estimated 13 million barrels of oil have been spilled since 1958: This makes an annual average 240,000 barrels of crude in the Niger delta, destroying the local livelihood and the very population’s survival. An award-winning investigative freelance journalist, Iruoma covers environment, education, agriculture and health in Nigeria. He is a reporting fellow of ICFJ and International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR), and has been trained by the organizations as Premium Times Center for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ), Wole Soyinka Center for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ) and Global Rights Nigeria. Ruth HeadshotIruoma headshot

His reporting partner Olurounbi is the business editor at Per Second News, a U.S.-based organization. The Wole Soyinka Female Leadership and ICIR fellow has covered development and human right issues, business, and agriculture for more than 10 years. When shes not writing, the award-winning journalist mentors young girls in her local community.  

The second project is one man’s cultural retrospective on a country’s re-emergence to a superpower and tourist destination. Philip Cunningham’s story will take him across the globe, about 7,000 miles from his New York base to Beijing. A seasoned broadcast reporter, producer and documentary filmmaker who started as a Chinese history researcher and tour guide in China, he has worked with outlets like PBS, ABC, NBC, BBC, NHK and CCTV and has witnessed key events like the 1989 Tiananmen uprising, the 1999 anti-U.S. demonstrations, and the 2008 Olympics. His goal is to create an immersive travel odyssey of Beijing across time and space that’s at once personal and political, cultural and historical. In addition to plumbing his photo and video archive, a past Nieman Fellow and Fulbright scholar, Cunningham plans to revisit key locations — some of which have changed beyond recognition. Since his first visit in 1983, not only has China changed radically, but so has journalism and the toolkits for a documentarian. A student’s retelling of one of his own stories inspired Cunningham to explore how the latest technologies might enrich the age-old art of storytelling.  Headshot of Cunningham

Two very different stories, both told and amplified through immersive storytelling.  

Supporting these three journalists has been part of our larger effort to help newsrooms and journalists deliver impactful stories and empower them through technology to find, create, and share information in unprecedented ways. We operate on the industry and individual level: be it hosting workshops at NICAR in southern California and the upcoming GEN Summit in Athens, working directly with newsrooms like the AP or Recode or assisting individuals like our ICFJ grant recipients, our goal is help journalism in what is our shared values: the pursuit of truth so that people and communities can make the best decisions in their daily lives to guide their future sustainability. 

We look forward to sharing stories on what the ICFJ grantees are learning and how they are affecting change in these communities. Please visit ICFJ to see and support all the tremendous projects it is undertaking–and while you’re at it, wish the center a happy 35th anniversary. 

The post Microsoft announces ICFJ immersive storytelling grantee winners appeared first on The Official Microsoft Blog.

Microsoft backs women tech entrepreneurs with global expansion of IdeaGen and Women in Cloud

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Since its formation two years ago, Women in Cloud, a community-led initiative built to empower women-led technology businesses to drive growth through cloud solutions and services, has become a leading community and resource for women innovators all over the world. A key initiative within the Women in Cloud community is the Microsoft Cloud Accelerator Program, an immersive 6-month program designed to help women-led companies start and build their businesses through Microsoft and its cloud distribution channels.

Today, as we kick-off the second accelerator cohort of women entrepreneurs in the greater Seattle area, I’m proud to announce that Microsoft, in partnership with IdeaGen and Women in Cloud, will extend the reach of its Accelerators to eight additional countries, with programs planned for: Canada, France, Germany, India, Kenya, South Africa, the UAE and the UK. The program will also expand within the United States with a cohort in New York City launching September 2019 with another to launch in Chicago later in Fall 2019.

This scale will provide women-owned technology companies all around the world with access to the cloud, mentorship, networking communities and resources to bring women-led innovations to market. Through a multi-million-dollar, multi-year investment from Microsoft, it is our goal that with this expansion and continued scaling, this program can help generate $1B in cloud opportunity by providing accessible cloud technology to more than 1,000 women-led tech companies over the investment period, enabling them to scale their businesses for sustainable economic growth in all corners of the world.

We’re excited to build on the program’s previous success. To date, the Women in Cloud Accelerator has provided opportunities to 30 women-owned companies (12 Seattle area participants in the first cohort), accelerating businesses such as Stylyze, Meylah, Genneve Health, and Automaton, while developing more than $30M of Cloud pipeline at its start.

Since launching Microsoft for Startups, Microsoft’s vision has been to deliver access to transformational technologies like cloud and AI and go-to-market and community benefits that help startups grow their customer and revenue base. As a part of that commitment, we support the acceleration of opportunities for diverse and underrepresented startups and entrepreneurs in a myriad of ways such as partnerships with groups like Backstage Capital, Black and Brown Founders, The Riveter, and WTIA’s Founder Cohort Program, as well as launched programs like M12’s Female Founders Competition.

As a woman and a leader at Microsoft, I’m proud of these initiatives, many of which have been established and are supported by women leaders within our organization. I am encouraged by our continued commitment to providing inspiration and mentorship for both women in tech and those just starting to develop interest in the industry. While there remains much to do, we at Microsoft believe that we will only be able to address our toughest technology challenges when we embrace diverse perspectives. To build this diversity, it’s critical to have a varied partner ecosystem and one that actively supports women entrepreneurs.

We can’t wait to see what innovation this partnership will foster – members of women-led companies are encouraged to apply here. We are currently accepting applications for our Chicago cohort, and will be opening applications for our global cohorts soon.

The post Microsoft backs women tech entrepreneurs with global expansion of IdeaGen and Women in Cloud appeared first on The Official Microsoft Blog.

Microsoft celebrates Pride, takes action for equity and visibility

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Fifty years ago, on June 28, LGBTQI+ patrons and allies at New York City’s Stonewall Inn stood up for justice demanding an equal life free of persecution. This year, as more than 4,000 Microsoft employees march in Pride parades in more than 60 cities and 30 countries around the world, we invite you to join us in pushing inclusion forward.

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising, we’re taking action for equity by donating to LGBTQI+ nonprofits. Plus, we’re releasing limited-edition products designed with and by the LGBTQI+ community.

 

YouTube Video

 

Microsoft has a history of LGBTQI+ inclusion

For us, Pride is an opportunity to reflect on our past and galvanize for action. We started our inclusion journey early in the company’s history, introducing sexual orientation in our non-discrimination policies in 1989. In 1993, we were one of the first companies in the world to offer employee benefits to same-sex domestic partners. In 2004, we added gender identity to our Equal Employment Opportunity statement and started providing gender affirming healthcare services. Since 2005, Microsoft has attained a top  score of 100 on the Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index, which indicates that Microsoft is establishing and applying policies to protect the LGBTQI+ community.

Our journey is just beginning

Today, Microsoft operates in over 120 countries, most of which still don’t provide legal protections for LGBTQI+ individuals. This year, Microsoft’s Pride campaign is all about the actions that our employees and customers are taking to advance inclusion. GLEAM (Global LGBTQI+ Employees and Allies at Microsoft), our LGBTQI+ resource group, worked with many of our teams to develop products to create visibility into the LGBTQI+ community.

In designing this year’s Pride campaign, LGBTQI+ designers and allies at Microsoft reflected on the LGBTQI+ rights movement of the 1970s. Dozens of LGBTQI+ community members and their allies submitted designs for campaign buttons displaying everything from personal statements to political slogans. These buttons reflect actions that people at Microsoft are taking and are encouraging others to take.

Microsoft is releasing all the button designs as a downloadable archive so everyone can use them, add to them and share their Pride with everyone, wherever they are.

Several Pride-related buttons

For the first time, we’ve also created limited-edition products and curated content to show our continued support for the LGBTQI+ community.

  • Surface – Inspired by the rich and varied tapestry of the LGBTQI+ community, make a more colorful impact with the limited-edition Surface Pro Pride Type Cover and Pride Skin available in the US, Canada, Australia, and the U.K. (only Type Cover).

YouTube Video

  • Windows PrideWindows – This Windows 10 special-edition theme was inspired by the many LGBTQI+ flags. Download the Windows Pride theme pack from the Microsoft Store.
  • Mixer – Discover Pride on Mixer with dedicated streams from select partners, unique stickers, and exclusive programs. Tune in on June 30th to live stream the Seattle Pride Parade!
  • Bing – Learn more about Stonewall on Bing with uniquely curated content featuring LGBTQI+ Bing Prideactivism dating back to 1969 with this quiz. And see Pride take over the Bing homepage in select countries around the world.
  • Office – Show your Pride colors with the exclusive Office theme and unique Pride templates for PowerPoint.
  • Skype – Celebrate Pride with Skype’s new LGBTQI+ flag emoticons, stickers, and more.
  • Xbox – Show your colors and celebrate your love of gaming with the Xbox Pride Sphere Pin available at xbox.com.Xbox Pride
  • Microsoft Rewards – Support LGBTQI+ youth in crisis by donating to The Trevor Project in June, and we’ll match it. Not a Microsoft Rewards member? Join today and we’ll give you $1 free to donate.
  • Microsoft Store – Visit your local Microsoft Store to take part in a Pride celebration, march with us, or learn more at educational workshops, events, and other activities.

Actions speak louder than words!

We’re donating $100,000 to the following nonprofits in Australia, Canada, United Kingdom, and the United States to celebrate and support their work on LGBTQI+ equity:

  • Established in 1985, ACON is Australia’s largest health promotion organization specializing in HIV prevention, HIV support and LGBTQ health.
  • Egale works to improve the lives of LGBTQI2S people in Canada and to enhance the global response to LGBTQI2S issues. They do this by informing public policy, inspiring cultural change, and promoting human rights and inclusion.
  • Mermaids is the only U.K.-wide charity working to support transgender or gender non-conforming children, young people, and their families. Their goal is to create a world where gender-diverse children and young people can be themselves and thrive. Mermaids promotes education and awareness, and offers information, support, friendship and shared experiences to those in need.
  •  The Trevor Project is the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning young people under 25.

We’re also happy to announce that LGBTQI+ nonprofit, Destination Tomorrow, was awarded a grant from the Microsoft Store to support their inclusion efforts for people of color. See what happened when we took action to help them thrive.

YouTube Video

We invite everyone to join us in taking action for equality. Microsoft Pride 2019 products launch today! Follow along with our stories all month and learn more about actions you can take for equality by joining the social conversation using #MicrosoftPride.

The post Microsoft celebrates Pride, takes action for equity and visibility appeared first on The Official Microsoft Blog.

Microsoft unveils details of London flagship store

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This first physical retail store for Microsoft in the U.K. will open to the general public on July 11, joining other world-class Microsoft Store locations all over the world, including flagships in New York and Sydney and stores across the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico and online in more than 190 countries.

This store is the latest step in our almost 40-year investment in the U.K., including recently doubling the size of Microsoft’s Azure regions to help more organizations digitally transform. We’re also committed to supporting the growth of digital skills in the U.K. in partnership with computing education and youth communities.

The flagship Microsoft Store in London will be located on Oxford Circus and covers 21,932 square feet over three floors. It will feature an Answer Desk, offering a dedicated area for customers to get tech support, trainings, repairs and advice from trusted advisors on Microsoft products and services, no matter where the device was purchased, the brand or operating system. A community theater, a space for tech, coding and STEM learning, will run free, year-round workshops and programs for customers. So if you are a business owner looking for the latest tech to grow your business, a gamer who wants to join a community or show your skills in a tournament, a student wanting to brush up on coding or a teacher looking to bring Minecraft alive in the classroom, customers of all ages and abilities will be able to learn and develop their digital skills.

Those who work, live, shop in or visit the U.K. will also be able to test and experience the latest technology, products and services from Microsoft and its partners. Interactive zones, surrounded by immersive video walls running throughout the store will make this the best place to get hands-on with Surface, Windows, Office, Xbox and PC gaming, HoloLens mixed-reality and more.

The site also adds to the growing list of innovative facilities Microsoft runs in the region, including three gaming studios, the start-up hub Reactor London and the global center of excellence for the development of artificial intelligence and other computing disciplines in the Microsoft Research Lab in Cambridge.

Designed to build connections with the local community, customers and businesses, this store represents a unique way to deliver on our mission to empower every person and organization on the planet to achieve more. A flagship store in London has long been part of our vision for our physical and digital store presence, and this opening represents another step in our journey to meet our customers – from consumers to businesses – wherever they are and deepen our connection with them. London is one of the world’s most exciting shopping destinations, and we look forward to empowering customers to explore all that is possible with Microsoft.

For more information and to keep up to date with the latest information on the U.K. store opening, please follow us @MicrosoftStoreUK on Instagram and Facebook and visit us online at www.microsoft.com.

The post Microsoft unveils details of London flagship store appeared first on The Official Microsoft Blog.

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