Microsoft has announced that it is making a major push into deep learning and artificial intelligence, merging together several of its existing business units into a 5,000-strong AI division.

Artificial intelligence has proven a hot-button topic over the last few months: Intel has spent a reported $400 million to acquire Nervana Systems, Google's DeepMind subsidiary has been kicking butt at Go and scanning for macular degeneration with dedicated accelerator hardware, and even Microsoft has been getting in on the act with open-source deep learning toolkits and Minecraft-based AI playgrounds.

Now, though, Microsoft is getting serious about its desire to compete in the AI market. 'Today, Microsoft announced a new group that will help accelerate this evolution. It will include Microsoft Research along with the company’s Information Platform Group, Bing and Cortana product groups, and our Ambient Computing and Robotics teams,' explained Microsoft's Harry Shum, who will lead the newly-formed AI and Research Group. 'The combined group will include more than 5,000 computer scientists and engineers.

'I’ve worked on both research and product teams, and I see incredible potential for this new group. Today, AI is shifting the computer science research supply chain and blurring lines between research and product. End-to-end innovation in AI will not come from isolated research labs alone, but from the combination of at-scale production workloads together with deep technology advancements in algorithms, systems and experiences,
' claimed Shum. 'The new group will provide greater opportunity to accelerate our innovation in AI, and to enable Microsoft to create truly intelligent systems and products for our customers. I believe we have some of the best AI talent on the planet, and we’ll continue to attract even more.'

The announcement came just days after the formation of the Partnership on AI, a not-for-profit industry group which claims to be looking to establish best practices on AI development and exploitation and which counts Amazon, Google's DeepMind, Facebook, IBM, and Microsoft in its founding membership pool.
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