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Artificial Intelligence is Coming for You

One thing that has become increasingly clear during Microsoft’s Build conference is that artificial intelligence (AI) is here and it is the future of development.  AI, natural language processing, cognitive services and deep learning are all valuable and critical components for any developer creating a new application.   Microsoft has affirmed to the tens of thousands of developers in attendance that their strategic direction is directly aligned with AI and that they want to lead the convergence of cognitive computing, mobility, and the increasingly important IoT.

I would caveat to this whole conversation by noting that it is easy to get overwhelmed and/or want to look away for just a minute because there are so many terms and technologies being bandied about.  Moreover, many of these terms and technologies being discussed will directly impact every single person through their phone, cars, houses, work offices, transit and so on.  Data-driven intelligence will be part of every sensor, drone, automobiles, sensors, mobile device, computer, camera and just about every other electronic item coming into existence.  What Microsoft is talking about is how to create and control those devices and how to bring them together to create something meaningful to all of us.

I wrote yesterday about Graph and what it is.  To say it is one of the most critical components of Microsoft’s grand strategy is an understatement.  Graph is what connects the data with respect to Microsoft’s cross-platform strategy and helps the systems create the unique relationships between the data points on the Graph.  Okay, wait a second…. what is Graph again?  I’ve seen it mentioned in at least 20 different slides during Build.  Great question, and as I continue to look deeper into the context and meaning of Graph I realized I needed to step back and look at what Graph means in the greater context to begin to understand what Microsoft is doing on a small and large scale.

Graph Theory

Graph Theory, as defined by Wikipedia, is a “mathematical structure used to model pairwise relations between objects and consists of vertices, nodes, and points which are connected by edges or lines.”

Okay, so how does a mathematical model relate to me?  If you start exchanging the “data points” with personal items you start to see how it makes sense.  For example, my data points are where I live, family members, locations I travel to, how long I drive in my car, phone numbers I call, people I email, places I travel to and so on.   All of these data points are accessible through my various devices that I use throughout the day and using my personal data points I have effectively created my own Graph.

So, going back to Microsoft’s multi-device strategy and the ability to connect all the devices I use to gather and consolidate my data makes a lot of sense.  You could even go further and say that Microsoft has the ability to begin to take these Graphs and connect them on even a larger scale – looking at larger societal issues, for example – but for most of us, my personal connection to this is what impacts me the most.

If we go back to the beginning and look at AI and the future of development, it becomes readily apparent that developers need and will build with the necessary tools to capture the data, and have the built-in intelligence to know what to do with it.  With Microsoft, and to some extent AWS and Google, their role is the plumber in this and providing all the tools and services to give developers those capabilities and allowing them to seamlessly and easily add those into any application or service they provide to their customers.

Corporate vs. Individual Impact

It’s important to note that there are two very different perspectives in relation to artificial intelligence and related tools.  From a corporate perspective, it’s about making money, delivering a service, protecting infrastructure, compliance and so on.  We all know for example that Google reads our emails, processes that data and then presents ads or services that we might be interested in.  However, these new services are moving well beyond the simple idea of just selling us something through a single medium.  I can’t help but think of Tom Cruise’s Minority Report where he is walking around a shopping area and each ad is personalized by name, things he might be interested in and so on. We are now moving from a single interface and interaction to something global where our data effectively moves with us regardless of where we are.   As a quick aside, I will write another blog shortly on Microsoft’s “Edge” and how this directly relates this idea of localizing our data and helping it move with us.

For me though, the personal element to this is both exciting and a bit frightening at the same time.  As my data travels with me, my experiences across the globe will eventually be unified.  I do like the idea of being able to access a customer’s graph and delivering a truly personal experience to them that in turn creates a more meaningful interaction, but I wonder if we won’t lose some of the uniqueness or experiences that come from being surprised or out of control.  Anybody who has run a website or online business in the past knows that personalizing your business can be difficult if not downright impossible.  Over the last few years, social media has presented some new opportunities and was the first attempt to personalize our interactions as it gave everyone the ability to see inside the veil and interact with companies in a personal way.  But, that interaction is usually controlled by a company or by someone working towards a certain and particular goal.

With Graph, we are now going one step further and allowing every single interaction to be highly personalized based on my own data, which is truly revolutionary.

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