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Microsoft Ignite 2019 | From Office to Cortex and Beyond – How AI Is Making a Difference at the World’s Most Valuable Company

“You'll see AI infused into all our products and services across the company, from tools to help people be more productive at work, to Azure services that give our customers the flexibility to deploy AI capabilities in any environment,” said Microsoft Communications Corporate Vice President Frank Shaw.

The Microsoft Ignite 2019 conference is now in progress in Orlando, Florida. Microsoft typically uses the annual gathering to unveil its new cutting edge tech tools and services, and this year was no exception — with AI again playing a central role.

“You’ll see AI infused into all our products and services across the company, from tools to help people be more productive at work, to Azure services that give our customers the flexibility to deploy AI capabilities in any environment,” said Microsoft Communications Corporate Vice President Frank Shaw.

Microsoft 365 is leveraging AI to deliver new experiences through a variety of new features. Vice President for Microsoft 365 Jared Spataro announced innovations in the cloud-powered platform’s productivity, knowledge, workflow, security, compliance, and management, emphasizing “the secret to Microsoft 365 from our perspective is AI.”

Microsoft says 365’s improved productivity tools will help users create, collaborate, analyze, write, present, organize, and manage their work by leveraging the latest innovations and powerful cloud services.

The company is also using AI to bring users personalized experiences to Outlook and to evolve its virtual assistant “Cortana” into a personal productivity assistant. Beginning next month, Cortana will be able to send users a daily email briefing that includes a summary of meetings, relevant documents, reminders regarding commitments made in earlier emails, etc.

During Monday’s keynotes the company announced a “Play My Emails” text-to-speech feature for Outlook. Cortana will use its improved natural language processing abilities to read out emails and impart important information such as schedule changes to users.

Microsoft also had news for its many corporate users. Over the past year the company has brought AI to Office — with innovations that include entering data into Excel with a digital pen, audio to text transcription in Word, and Presenter Coach in PowerPoint. All these AI-powered features aim to boost user productivity.

Other product announcements included improvements to MyAnalytics, which can automate out-of-office notification setup, inform collaborators, resolve meeting conflicts, etc. Integrated into the Insights pane in Outlook, MyAnalytics is now also able to encourage best practices such as booking meetings promptly, adding an agenda, or scheduling a delayed email delivery according to the time zone or working hours of the recipient.

Microsoft Stream meanwhile applies AI to perform automatic transcription — for example on video recordings of meetings. AI is also powering Stream’s new voice enhance feature, which provides a much clearer focus on the spoken word by reducing background noise.

Microsoft also announced a new research focus for Microsoft 365 — knowledge. Microsoft 365 will now be able to identify, organize, and deliver knowledge within and across organizations — thanks to Project Cortex, the first new service in Microsoft 365 since the launch of Teams two years ago.

Project Cortex uses AI to reason over content across teams and systems, recognizing content types, extracting important information, and automatically organizing content into shared topics like projects, products, processes and customers. Cortex then creates a knowledge network based on relationships among topics, content, and people. New topic pages and knowledge centers — created and updated by AI — enable experts to curate and share knowledge with wiki-like simplicity. And topic cards deliver knowledge instantly to people in Outlook, Microsoft Teams, and Office.

Project Cortex builds on intelligence from the Microsoft Graph, a variety of Microsoft AI technologies, and the leading content services of SharePoint — which recently surpassed 100 million monthly active commercial users as part of Microsoft 365. Cortex also lets users connect to external systems and repositories; use advanced AI to automate content capture, categorization, and management; and protect information with intelligent security and compliance.

Cortex is set to be officially released in the first half of 2020, first in English and with additional languages expected later in the year.

Cybersecurity and data privacy are growing concerns, and this morning Microsoft’s Director of Cloud and AI Security Steve Dispensa held a Q&A on Microsoft Azure Sentinel. Sentinal is a scalable, cloud-native, security information event management (SIEM) and security orchestration automated response (SOAR) solution that delivers intelligent security analytics and threat intelligence, providing solutions for alert detection, threat visibility, proactive hunting, and threat response.

Dispensa gave a few examples of AI integration in Sentinel: “The first one is, we harnessed an existing AI capability that we’ve built for years in Azure AD — an industrial strength ML model for detecting anomalous logins — and we used an ML process to transfer and compress the model so that it can run in a customer’s Sentinel instance, on customer data.” Dispensa also introduced an AI-powered process called fusion, wherein Sentinel can consider for example fusing two yellow alerts from different sources into one urgent red alert to help prioritize what needs to be looked into.

“We have brought (AI), and are going to bring more of it, into guided hunting and into guided investigations,” said Dispensa.

Microsoft Ignite 2019 runs to November 8 at the Orange County Convention Center and is expected to draw some 30,000 IT implementers and decision makers, developers, data professionals and others from a wide variety of industries.


Journalist: Yuan Yuan | Editor: Michael Sarazen

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