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Microsoft is using the brainpower of its legendary research unit in an artificial intelligence push

The company says AI will be a part of everything it does.


Microsoft has decided it needs more real brains working on artificial intelligence.

The company said Thursday it is combining the team working on bots like Cortana with its longstanding Microsoft Research lab into a single 5,000-person unit.

Research head Harry Shum will lead the effort.

“Microsoft has been working in artificial intelligence since the beginning of Microsoft Research, and yet we’ve only begun to scratch the surface of what’s possible,” Shum said in a statement.

The move comes amid the departure of Qi Lu for health reasons, as first reported by Recode. Shum will take over the search efforts that Lu had been responsible for, while Rajesh Jha will take over responsibility for all of Office and get a promotion to executive vice president.

It also continues an effort under CEO Satya Nadella to get more product results out of the research team, which for years focused primarily on academic pursuits.

An early example of this is Microsoft Pix, an iPhone camera app that uses artificial intelligence as a way to try to take better pictures. Pix is based on the idea that by the time a human takes a picture, the moment has likely passed, so it is recording pictures constantly and chooses the best photo from among those taken just before and after a person pushes the shutter button.

Microsoft says that in particular, it is looking to infuse artificial intelligence into a range of products from smart agents like the Cortana assistant to apps like Skype and Office as well as into the infrastructure and services it makes available to others.

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