Microsoft explores AI’s potential to tackle humanitarian crises

Announced today ‘AI for Humanitarian Action’ is the third program in Microsoft’s AI for Good initiative

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Microsoft has launched a program aimed at leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) technologies to aid humanitarian causes.

AI for Humanitarian Action is the third program in the company’s US$115 million AI for Good initiative to launch over the past 18 months.

Frank X. Shaw, the company’s corporate vice president, communications, told a media briefing that new $40 million, five-year AI for Humanitarian Action program is aimed at harnessing the power of AI in four areas: Disaster response, the needs of children, refugees and displaced people, and promoting human rights.

“We’ll do this by working with specific NGOs and humanitarian organisations through financial grants, technology investments, and partnerships that combine our AI and data science know-how with these groups’ core expertise,” Shaw said.

AI for Humanitarian Action is being officially unveiled today at the company’s Ignite 2018 conference in Florida.

The two previously announced AI for Good programs are the $50 million AI for Earth (launched in July 2017) and the $25 million AI for Accessibility (launched in May this year).

"We are optimistic that AI for Humanitarian Action will accelerate the pace of innovation by managing strategic AI projects that demonstrate new applications, delivering reusable solutions and partnering with others to expand and scale initial projects," Microsoft president Brad Smith wrote in a blog entry.

"A fundamental aspect of all our AI for Good initiatives is to combine Microsoft’s technology and expertise in artificial intelligence and data science with the talent and expertise of groups around the world in fields such as environmental science, disability needs and humanitarian assistance," Smith wrote.

"We are hopeful the world will see what a compelling force for good AI can be when it's used well in partnership with innovative NGOs. By ensuring technology fulfills its promise to address the broadest societal needs, we can empower everyone to achieve more."

AI for Humanitarian Action is one of a number of AI and data related announcements Microsoft is making at Ignite.

Another is the launch of a private preview of Cortana Skills Kit for Enterprise.

“The end-to-end solution allows enterprises to build custom skills and agents, test them with users and fully manage deployment to their organization,” Microsoft said.

The company said that Cortana Skills Kit for Enterprise was built with the Microsoft Bot Framework and Azure Cognitive Services Language Understanding service. It will help businesses use the voice assistant improve workforce productivity, Microsoft said.

In addition the company detailed Azure Machine Learning updates, including a Python SDK and additional hardware accelerated models for FPGAs, general availability of Microsoft’s Speech Service and Bot Framework v4, and a number of new features for Microsoft 365.

The company has launched a public preview of SQL Server 2019, which includes built-in support for Spoark and Hadoop. On 1 October it is launching a preview of a new ‘SQL Database Hyperscale’ tier for Azure SQL Database.  SQL Database Hyperscale can scale up to 100TB per database, Microsoft said.

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