2 weeks ago, Microsoft hosted their “Future Now” event at the Exhibition grounds in Toronto. It was a great event as Microsoft showed off a lot of new and upcoming technologies available in their Azure stack. There was one clear theme throughout the event: intelligence.
Microsoft showed their incredible cloud stack. Some things that stood out to me:
Microsoft showed the capabilities of their Cognitive Services technology in Azure. The text to speech functionality was interesting, but what amazed me was hearing a machine mimic the voice of a human. You could feed voice data into Azure and eventually the service would be able to translate text into that voice. Soon we will have personalized phone operators and live voice bots that will be indistinguishable from a human voice. Fascinating.
Integration of Services
Another key aspect they showed was how the different Azure AI/ML related services fit in together. The cognitive services allow it to understand natural language and create the voice/text experiences required for bots and intelligent conversations. Azure SQL, Data Factory, Data Lake, and other cloud databases allow the storage and processing of big data. The machine learning service provides a framework to learn from this data. And the existing business applications like Power BI and Dynamics 365 provide a front-end to integrate with.
One example shown by Microsoft was a government website that integrate a bot to help users know what forms to fill out, how to fill them out, and did error checking so people knew exactly what the form expected of them. Anyone who has requested building permits, such as the new kitchen renovation that the example used, knows how confusing filling out those forms can be!
Another example showed how cognitive services in Power BI can find insights in data that would not be obvious to a human. This can analyze trends and highlight important data, correlations, and anomalies either automatically or through a user asking a question in plain English.
Where and When to Move Forward?
Now certainly there is a time lapse between what Microsoft promotes as the “Future” and what businesses need to focus on today. That said, the keynote speaker Jim Carroll put a Bill Gates quote on the screen during his presentation:
“You often overestimate the amount of change in two years, and underestimate the amount of change in ten years” – Bill Gates.
Anyone who considers the world in 2009 would likely agree with this sentiment. What that means for business is that the planning and strategizing starts now, so that while the future is unknown, the business is equipped to adjust on the fly based on the framework set in place today.