What we liked at Microsoft Build 2018

We’re slap bang in the middle of developer conference season and all the big companies are pushing their keynotes and trying to set the agenda for the next 12 months.  First up for us was the Microsoft Build conference.

Privacy and Ethics

It’s interesting that Satya Nadella (Microsoft CEO) started by focusing on culture, privacy and ethics.  The IT industry seems to be falling into two camps on privacy and ethics - those that believe our personal data should be private and those with a somewhat looser view.

The first camp one are mainly product sellers who, on the whole, are more established companies like Microsoft and Apple.  These companies make their money by making desirable things we are willing to pay for.  As part of making a desirable product they are trying to treat us fairly and protect our data and privacy.

On the other side of the fence are the advertising led companies, think social media and search companies.  Their customers are advertisers and we while they make great free services we have to remember that we’re ultimately their product so while their services are great we have to accept a bargain with respect to our data, think Cambridge Analytica and other recent issues.

It seems at the moment the second camps great data hoarding is giving them a lead on data driven services,  think search, mapping and personal assistants where the privacy first companies are struggling to keep up.  It’ll be interesting over the next few years to see how AI, deep learning and also legislation (GDPR anyone) even this split out.

Onto technology and a load of announcements around AI and Azure.  We use Microsoft Azure as our preferred cloud platform to host complex web apps.  Here are a few highlights from the conference that we might end up using.

Azure Announcements

Azure is the brand for all Microsoft’s cloud hosting and bundled services.  For the last couple of years these services have focused on Enterprise cost savings and ease of running as company data centres transitioned to cloud hosting. This year the focus shifted as the technology has matured and AI and Edge computing took centre stage.

AI

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and algorithms seem to be everywhere at the moment.  Mainstream media has new scare stories every week either about gig economy jobs managed by algorithms or huge job losses coming with AI.  The reality is a bit more complex.  Certainly there is a load of hype around AI, with true artificial intelligence still being the realm of Sci-Fi and decades away from reality.  

Machine learning and algorithms, on the other hand, are definitely here now.  These are best described as systems that can be trained (improve) to do specific tasks.  Machine learning services have rapidly left the lab and Microsoft had announcements and advanced demos of image recognition, language translation and chat bots. These services are available today and we’re planning to incorporate them into products over the next 12 months.  Search for Azure Cognitive services to learn more.

Azure Edge

Having got us to sort out our back end systems and move everything into the cloud, the focus has now shifted to data gathering at the edge of systems.  Microsoft introduced Azure IoT Edge as a framework to power devices to collect data and make decisions further away from the central cloud.

Some of the interesting examples shown included using DJI drones for fault surveillance, and moving monitoring of production equipment away from the cloud and putting fault monitoring AI right at the machinery.  This had the effect of reducing decision making from seconds to tenths of a second and potentially stopped disastrous failures.

In addition Microsoft re-booted some older technology and showed off the Project Kinect for Azure camera module.  This is the 4th generation version of the depth and movement sensing system launched with the Xbox 360 in 2010.  Since then it’s been reworked and incorporated into the Hololens and now finds itself as a standalone module.

Project Kinect for Azure

It incorporates improved depth sensors and AI and was shown off monitoring manufacturing and warehouse processes.  It's be interesting to see how it's adopted over the next year.

 

Hololens

The last thing we're starting to experiment with is Microsoft’s mixed reality system and in particular the Hololens.  It’s already a very impressive system that's being used for collaborative 3D design and training and while version 1 isn't really a mainstream product, a new cheaper and better version 2 is rumoured for early next year.

There weren’t any massive new announcements from Microsoft in this area but they did show off two new Hololens apps with Microsoft Remote Assist and Microsoft Layout.

Microsoft Remote Assist lets you look through somebody else's eyes.  The example shown let experienced support staff remotely see what field based engineering staff were seeing.  Imagine sending out an engineer with tools to a remote location and them being able to call in a more experienced senior engineer via Skype to help them fix the problem.  This takes that process one step further by letting them be their direct guide.

Microsoft Layout was designed to make adding 3D models effortless to room-sized layouts to aid with space planning and technical sales.  The example shown allowed a 3d model of a gas turbine to be seen insitu in a machine hall to work out where best to place it.

Hololens Layout

We think virtual reality and augmented reality tools like this will become more mainstream business tools in a few years time.  If you want to explore them early then get in touch.

 

There were of course loads of announcements including new tools for Office 365, new productivity apps and improvements to their assistant Cortana.  You can find them all on the Microsoft Build website.  

 

Lets see what Google and Apple have to say in response over the next few weeks.

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About Simon Hemington

Simon sets the business and creative direction for The Boffin Lab.

He has over 20 years industry experience having worked for both small technology companies and giant multi-nationals. He built his first websites around 1996 and since then has been involved in making systems both big and small.

His guiding principle is always to make things that work as well as they look.

Outside of the lab Simon is a keen cyclist and triathlete.  If you spot him at a race please say hi and get ready to talk tech.

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Simon Hemington