Digital transformation is around us—it’s real and not just a buzzword any more. Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning, Internet of Things (IoT) and smart devices are already an essential part of our daily lives and are increasingly playing a pivotal role in designing products and services of the future. In a world powered by the intelligent edge and the intelligent cloud, as organisations head into the next stage of their digital transformation journey, here is a perspective on trends to watch out for in 2018:
Using AI for improving quality of life
Over the past couple of years, AI has increasingly moved out of labs into the mainstream. In 2018, while AI will continue to enable enterprises to transform, it will also see more adoption to bring transformation in communities. AI combined with human ingenuity is already opening new possibilities and helping people do amazing things in e-governance, healthcare services, agricultural practices, financial inclusion, education and everyday work. At Microsoft, our objective is to democratise the power of AI. This means harnessing AI to help not just engineers and technologists, but also farmers, artists, weavers…the potential is endless. We also firmly believe that AI must be designed to assist humanity, and applied to empower every individual to realise his/her true potential.
Blockchain for increased efficiencies
The potential impact of blockchain is likely to be a significant game-changer across sectors and industries. It enables a direct, simpler and faster transaction system between a network of users and provides transparent access to the information, thereby offering a very secure way to track ownership of assets. According to leading analyst and consulting firms, the top five industries that blockchain will likely disrupt by 2020 are financial services, government, real estate, supply chain management, and media distribution. It is also becoming increasingly accessible to users. Microsoft’s Azure Blockchain as a Service (BaaS) provides an open, hyper-scale cloud platform and an expanding ecosystem of blockchain technologies for enterprises, consortia and governments. It can help them further optimise their digital transformation journey in a cost-effective yet scalable manner across development, testing and production environments.
Natural language computing – driving universal access
The data revolution has resulted in vast amounts of digitised text being generated, propagated, exchanged, stored and accessed through the internet everyday round the planet. However, language can often become a barrier to this momentum of learning, growth and economic development. Further, multilingual communities like ours widely exhibit language mixing in verbal communication and now, with the rise of social media and other informal interactive platforms, it is now also observed prominently in user-generated text. It is important, therefore, to focus on developing solutions for multi-language text analysis, machine translation and cross-language information retrieval, among others.
Microsoft’s aim is to make sure everyone can be productive irrespective of the language he or she prefers to use. Skype Translator is a fantastic example of helping people across languages and nationalities communicate seamlessly. Project Melange, an exciting research project at Microsoft Research India, aims to understand the uses of and build tools around code-mixing, i.e., mixing of two or more socially stable languages, and thereby create tools that will allow us to process and model mixed language. Innovations in this area can be game changers to enhance human progress.
Public-private partnerships towards a secure cyber space
There is a continued need to strengthen security infrastructure that safeguards India’s digital empowerment against cyber breaches, which will continue to become more sophisticated and expansive in scope. According to a recent report, 79% of organisations identified cybersecurity as one of the top five business risks, thus making deployment of effective cyber security solutions crucial for business.
For several years now, policymakers and practitioners from governments, CERTs, and the security industry have been speaking about the importance of public-private partnerships as an essential part of combating cyber threats. With the introduction of GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) in Europe, the global regulatory environment to protect privacy and enhance security will also become stronger. The technology industry will incentivise migrations to newer platforms which offer more built-in security; and that are more securely developed. Microsoft will continue to strengthen its commitment by enabling deeper cyber-security collaborations with public and private sector organisations.
Empower with accessibility
Over a billion people, accounting for 15% of the world’s population, live with some form of disability. However, it is equally encouraging to know the potential of today’s technology in enabling people with disabilities to do things they otherwise thought they could not. AI and cognitive intelligence will be increasingly used to empower people in ways no one could have ever imagined. At Microsoft, there are engineers, designers and other tech professionals who are working tirelessly to achieve this goal. One such project under way is an AI powered interactive cane for people with visual challenges, which involves adding sensors and gesture recognition to existing canes to provide users information about their surroundings. I expect to see a lot more innovations to enhance accessibility being driven out of India through collaboration between individuals, organisations and policymakers.
We are moving from today’s mobile-first, cloud-first world to a new world—one that is going to be powered by an intelligent cloud and an intelligent edge. Humanity is in the early stages of the fourth industrial revolution and 2018 promises to be another year when technology will help surmount many challenges and open endless possibilities. Our mission through it all remains the same: To empower every individual and every organisation on the planet to achieve more.