All posts in “Microsoft”

Microsoft squeezed AI onto a Raspberry Pi

Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning usually work best with a lot of horsepower behind them to crunch the data, compute possibilities and instantly come up with better solutions.

That’s why most AI systems rely on local sensors to gather input, while more powerful hardware in the cloud manages all the heavy lifting of output. It’s how Apple’s Siri and Amazon Alexa work, and how IBM Watson can tackle virtually any major task. It is, though, a limiting approach when it comes to making smarter Internet of Things and applying intelligence when there isn’t Internet connectivity.

“The dominant paradigm is that these [sensor] devices are dumb,” said senior researcher with Microsoft Research India, Manik Varma.

Now, Varma’s team in India and Microsoft researchers in Redmond, Washington, (the entire project is led by lead researcher Ofer Dekel) have figured out how to compress neural networks, the synapses of Machine Learning, down from 32 bits to, sometimes, a single bit and run them on a $10 Raspberry Pi, a low-powered, credit-card-sized computer with a handful of ports and no screen. It’s really just an open-source motherboard that can be deployed anywhere. The company announced the research in a blog post on Thursday.

Microsoft’s work is part of a growing trend of moving Machine Learning closer to devices and end users.

Earlier this month at is annual World Wide Developer’s Conference, Apple announced new Machine Learning APIs (Vision and Natural Language) that allow developers to add machine learning-based intelligence to their apps with just a couple of lines of code. They also unveiled Core ML for developers more well-versed in AI to take full advantage of all inference capabilities available on the local hardware. Apple’s model does have the developers train their Machine Learning algorithms on libraries Apple provides. The system then converts the code to run the AI locally.

Obviously, in Apple’s case, that hardware is inside a $700 iPhone and the CPU is much, much more powerful than anything found on a Raspberry Pi. Still, the trend is clear. These companies are moving intelligence closer to the local hardware and, where possible, relying less on constant access to massive data and intelligence stores in the cloud.

“If you’re driving on a highway and there isn’t connectivity there, you don’t want the [AI] implant to stop working,” said Varma in the blog post. “In fact, that’s where you really need it the most.”

It’s an approach that will make sense for smaller, sensor-based tasks that can learn by location, intention, recent action and the device data. In the near term, it won’t be a solution for, say, coming up with new cancer therapies (one of the areas of interest for IBM’s Watson AI).

As for Microsoft, this Raspberry Pi breakthrough is simply phase one in a quest to compress neural networks so much that they can run on a breadcrumb-sized micro controller. To get there, the machine learning models need to be, according to Microsoft, as much as 10,000 times smaller. That’s a problem the team is still working on.

In the meantime, Microsoft released previews of the Raspberry Pi-sized machine learning and training algorithms on GitHub where enterprising developers can try them out and, potentially deploy on Raspberry Pi 3 and Raspberry Pi Zero.

Ultimately, this is another piece of Microsoft’s growing Intelligent Edge strategy, which Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella outlined earlier this year a Microsoft Build developers conference. Microsoft hopes to see these tiny AI-able microprocessors deployed in everything from our offices to the clothes we wear.

For Varma, who is visually impaired, the research is a little more personal. His team is already developing a prototype intelligent walking stick to showcase their research.

WATCH: Robots are taking over the Museum of Industry and Science in Chicago

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Facebook, Microsoft, YouTube and Twitter form Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism


Today Facebook, Microsoft, YouTube and Twitter collectively announced a new partnership aimed at reducing the accessibility of internet services to terrorists. The new Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism adds structure to existing efforts by the companies to target and remove from major web platforms recruiting materials for terror groups.

Together, the four tech leaders say they will collaborate on engineering solutions to the problem, sharing content classification techniques and effective reporting methods for users. Each company also will contribute to both technical and policy research and share best practices for counterspeech initiatives.

Back in December of 2016, the same four companies announced the creation of a shared industry hash database. By sharing hashes with each other, the group was able to collectively identify terror accounts without each having to do the time- and resource-intensive legwork independently. This new organization creates more formal bureaucracy for improving that database.

Similarly, Facebook, Microsoft, YouTube and Twitter will be teaching smaller companies and organizations to follow in their footsteps to adopt their own proactive plans for combating terror. A portion of this training will cover key strategies for executing counterspeech programs like YouTube’s Creators for Change and Facebook’s P2P and OCCI.

All of these actions are occurring side-by-side with public sector efforts. The G7 has been vocal about the importance of combating extremism with a multi-pronged approach. Today’s partnership further solidifies the relationship between four multi-national tech companies with the aim of pushing back against terrorism on their respective platforms.

Featured Image: Photodisc/Getty Images

It looks like the much-hyped Windows Whiteboard app has leaked

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No one is immune to leaks in the tech world and today it’s Microsoft’s turn as a version of its anticipated Whiteboard app looks like its leaked on the web. 

The video above from WindowsBlogItalia — a, well, Italian Windows blog — which purports to show the app in use, free writing, image insertion, shapes and all. 

As flagged by The Verge, the leaked version seems to be an “Education Preview” of the software, and seems to be as cool as we expected it to be. One note, though: One of the coolest parts of the software — the collaborative tool that lets users simultaneously draw and edit the same project — isn’t available in the leak. 

Our own Lance Ulanoff got to see the software up close at Microsoft’s Redmond, Washington office back in May. 

The tool’s builders included a feature called “live ink,” wherein collaborators’ ink strokes are visible as they’re made, and each collaborator is identified thanks to an icon, called “local ink identity.” 

The system also includes shape recognition. Draw a circle and it will turn into a cleaner and more manipulable one.

The app is also a powerful demonstration for Microsoft’s new, impressive Surface Pen. 

The Whiteboard app is currently “available in private previews in Surface Hub” and Microsoft has only added they plan to roll it out to more users later in 2017.

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Microsoft rolls out a new talk-to-type app to free you from your keyboard

AI assistants like Siri and Cortana are making voice commands the go-to way we interact with our speakers and smartphones, but on our computers, most of us are still chained to the keyboard. 

Microsoft, which is in the midst of a major push to put AI in just about everything, wants to break PC users from their keyboard bonds using AI. A new app add-on from Microsoft Garage, the company’s arm for experimental projects, will bring the next-level speech recognition system used by Cortana to transcribe your words in Outlook, Word, and PowerPoint.   

Microsoft announced the new transcription app, simply called Dictate, in a blog post today. Since its birth as a prototype at one of Microsoft’s annual hackathons, the project has been used by more than 1,500 of the company’s employees in over 40 countries.

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Dictate can transcribe in 20 languages, and Microsoft claims the AI can provide real-time translation in 60 languages. You can use spoken commands to add punctuation, new lines, and some editing and formatting features, or test the AI’s accuracy with an auto-punctuation feature.

Image: microsoft

Voice-based productivity isn’t exactly new; Google introduced a dictation feature to Docs last year, even giving users some next-level voice controls to allow for extra formatting and editing power. 

Microsoft also announced that its speech recognition software was as accurate as humans earlier this year — but that system hasn’t been introduced to its programs just yet.  

If you’re ready to give up typing on your PowerPoint slides forever, head to Dictate’s project page to download it.

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Skype outage causing connectivity issues, company says it’s a “global incident”


Microsoft’s recently updated communications app Skype has been suffering connectivity issues which began on Monday, June 19th, and are continuing today. After hours of downtime on Monday, the company confirmed the issue via a blog post and tweet, which stated that an incident was causing users to either lose connectivity to the application or lose their ability to send and receive messages.

Some users were also unable to see a black bar indicating an ongoing group call, while others may have had delays in adding users to their buddy list, Microsoft’s post said.

The Skype Support Twitter account has this morning referred to the outage as a “global incident.”

These problems could be related to some sort of system glitch or bug, but they could also be caused by an attack on Skype’s network. It’s unclear for now which is to blame. Microsoft has not yet detailed the causes, nor any information about how those problems are being addressed.

We’re trying to get more information now from Microsoft, and will update as it arrives.

Filling the informational void, some sites, including Panda Security and CNET, are reporting a DDoS attack may be the cause. They are citing a tweet from a group of cybercriminals who go by the name “CyberTeam,” whose Twitter claims to have caused the crash. The team also promised to take down video game site Steam next.

But as Microsoft has not yet pointed the finger at any group, nor has it even referred to the incident as an “attack,” this sort of claim needs to be taken with the proverbial grain of salt for the time being.

In addition, Ryan Olson, threat intelligence director of the Palo Alto Networks Unit 42 threat research team, notes there’s no firm evidence at present that this is the result of any particular attack.

“Since Mirai, people have understandably been concerned once more about DDoS attacks that could be carried out by IoT devices. Currently there’s no evidence of that at work here,” he adds.

https://twitter.com/CyberTeam/status/876926485428305920

The incident, details of which have been circulating on Twitter under the #skypedown hashtag, appears to have largely affected users in the U.K. and elsewhere in Europe, according to outage maps on DownDetector’s website.

We also understand from people close to the situation at Microsoft that Europe is the primary region affected. But Microsoft has not 100 percent confirmed this, which is why it has not yet been announced.

However, users on the DownDetector site posting from the affected regions on Tuesday morning were still reporting a mix of “it’s back” and “still down” comments. Plus, given Skype’s own tweet referencing the global nature of the incident, it appears that users outside the highlighted regions may also have been affected. But again, details are still sparse on that for now.

It also appears that Microsoft had believed the issue to be fixed earlier on June 19th, according to one tweet, which claimed the issue was resolved. Following that update, the company’s support account then continued to say that the issue is ongoing to incoming complaints from users on Tuesday.

Microsoft tells TechCrunch it’s looking into what it can share with us about the incident, and we’ll update accordingly.

Update, 6/20/17, 11 AM ET: Microsoft has updated its post to say that it’s seeing improvements, but some users may still be experiencing issues.

Update, 6/20/2017, 4 PM ET: Microsoft has now updated the post to say it has made some configuration corrections and mitigated the impact. “We are continuing to monitor and we will post an update when the issue is fully resolved,” the company noted.

But users are continuing to report after 5 PM ET on Tuesday that they’re still having issues. In some cases, Microsoft advised them to uninstall and reinstall Skype.