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Microsoft Ignite 2019 | Project Cortex AI Builds Enterprise Knowledge Networks

The message from Microsoft is clear: the company is investing in knowledge, which it believes will become one of the most important assets of any organization.

The message from Microsoft is clear: the company is investing in knowledge, which it believes will become one of the most important assets of any organization.

In his keynote at the Microsoft Ignite 2019 Conference this week in Orlando, Florida, CEO Satya Nadella unveiled Project Cortex, which “uses AI to create a knowledge network that reasons over your organization’s data and automatically organizes it.” The project was previously known as the Knowledge Network for Microsoft 365.

Knowledge is becoming a fourth pillar value area for Microsoft 365, in addition to collaboration, workflow, and security and management, said Seth Patton, Microsoft 365 General Manager of Product Marketing: “Project Cortex, of course, is the hero new offering in this area.”

Microsoft 365 (M 365) is a combination of Office 365, Windows 10, and Enterprise Mobility + Security, which offers organizations a complete intelligent solution.

AI-powered Project Cortex is the first new M 365 service since the launch of Microsoft Teams two years ago. Cortex manages content across teams and systems and converts organizational data into shareable knowledge in user friendly formats.

Project Cortex is built for boosting process efficiency, said M 365 Corporate Vice President Jared Spataro in an Ignite media briefing. A key point is knowledge retrieval. “A lot of the times the knowledge is already there, inside the organization. The hard part is to actually dig it out, and Project Cortex is the tool to do that, to identify the most valuable, relevant, part and to share it with others.”

The project started nearly 10 years ago, but at that time was merely a concept with undeveloped technologies, Spataro explained. It’s made possible today mainly by the breakthroughs in developing knowledge graphs, or knowledge networks.

Project Cortex is doing three major things with AI — collecting, organizing, and delivering knowledge — according to M 365 Content, Collaboration & Knowledge Directer Dan Holme. By recognizing content types, extracting important information, and automatically organizing content into shared topics like projects, products, policies and customers, Project Cortex is able to then create a knowledge network based on the relationships among those topics, content, and people.

In addition to identifying topics, it can generate Wiki-like “topic cards,” “topic pages,” and even “knowledge centers” across the organization in Outlook, Microsoft Teams, and Office. But unlike Wikipedia, it’s curated enterprise content rather than a public resource. Here’s an example demonstrated by Holme:

As the demo shows, if you hover over a term or phrase, a topic card will pop out with a summary of definitions, experts, resources, related topics, and other details. Clicking through will direct you to detailed topic pages. You can also follow, and in some cases make edits to topics. The topic cards and pages are all created and updated by AI, but Microsoft stresses they can also be improved by human subject matter experts in the loop.

Unlike previous efforts to manage content and knowledge which burdened end users with the time-consuming task of tagging — now AI is doing that for us, Holme said. Basically the Project Cortex AI does the heavy lifting, and as human experts tweak, refine and curate content the AI gets smarter.

Leading the Project Cortex R&D team is Jeff Teper, Office 365’s Corporate Vice President. Teper was responsible for product design and development for SharePoint, a web-based collaborative platform that integrates with Microsoft Office. He now leads R&D teams for Office apps, OneDrive and SharePoint.

Microsoft says that as part of M 365, Project Cortex builds upon the privacy, security and compliance tenets of the rest of the suite, which also helps it streamline processes and increase efficiency.

Project Cortex has thus far only been tested in a private preview with 13 Microsoft customers, including Mott MacDonald, a global engineering, management and development consulting firm headquartered in London.

Project Cortex is scheduled to be officially launched in the first half of 2020 in Microsoft 365, with cloud business platform Dynamics 365 potentially incorporating it down the line. No information has yet been released on packages or prices.

Journalist: Yuan Yuan | Editor: Michael Sarazen

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