Microsoft accelerates AI for health, education, agriculture, and business

Behind closed doors in the newly built campus at Bengaluru. 

Microsoft’s top leadership, along with clients and analysts.  

Discuss and decode how the next phase of the IT evolution will shape human lives.

Given the immense potential in India for the proliferation of Artificial Intelligence, how can it be democratised so that many people benefit? 

The middle of January.

Technology sessions like this one are not uncommon for the technology giant with a market capitalisation of around $795 billion but what was striking about this meeting was that, while Microsoft is taking a huge bet on ensuring the proliferation of AI through its ‘AI for All’ programme, India, with its huge base of developers, is seen as the place where it can test, build and implement quite a few of its AI-led applications.

Whether it’s early detection of cancer, helping farmers increase crop yields, or tackling child malnutrition, Microsoft perceives these as the next big opportunity to deploy its AI solutions.

The company has already seen the potential of some of these, roping in over 700 business establishments and government organisations who are already using its AI solutions to solve their unique problems. 

“I think AI has reached a tipping point. Given the large population and challenges in areas like health care, agriculture and education, I think it is really a big opportunity for us to make a difference at scale,” said Anil Bhansali, managing director, Microsoft India (R&D). Germany’s non-profit Welthungerhilfe, for example, is tackling malnutrition in Indian children through Microsoft AI. Under this programme, Action Against Hunger, the India-based partner of Welthungerhilfe, is scanning 10,000 children under the age of five across Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan by using the infrared sensor available in smartphones to capture the 3D measurements of their height, body volume, and weight ratio which is then get stored onto the Azure Cloud. The scans are evaluated by nutritionists and IT specialists using Azure AI solutions to analyze the child’s dietary condition. This data can further be used by field workers to work out nutrition plans and provide children with vitamin-rich provisions based on their specific requirements. The app has a learning algorithm, which gets smarter with each measurement.

This is possible now due to the maturity of technologies like cloud computing, the availability of a large amount of data, and the increasing number of interconnected devices. “Today you can build a malnutrition app without being an expert in AI. We are lowering the bar on the amount of expertise that is needed,” said Sriram Rajamani, scientist and managing director, Microsoft Research India.

Health care has been a major area for Microsoft’s AI. It has partnered with Forus Health, a Bengaluru-based start-up focused on retinal imaging devices. The firm is leveraging AI for the early detection of eye diseases such as diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, and macular degeneration to help reduce avoidable blindness. 

Along with Apollo Hospitals, the company has built the ‘first-ever’AI-powered cardiovascular disease risk score API (application programme interface) which can predict the risk of heart disease in the Indian population. The scoring considers parameters such as diet, smoking, physical activity, and psychological stress and anxiety.

Gurugram-based SRL Diagnostics is also applying Microsoft AI for more accurate diagnosis in digital pathology and early detection of diseases such as cancer. 

Microsoft has also partnered with Talview, a start-up whose automated video interviewing solution helps customers hire from the untapped talent pool from multiple cities. Besides saving thousands of hours spent on sourcing and screening talent, the solution, built on Azure Cognitive services, helps to identify behavioural insights for selecting the right candidates. 

“Our goal is to really democratise AI. The vision is to bring AI readily available for every employee, business process and developer seamlessly,” said Anant Maheshwari, president, Microsoft India.

Despite the promise held out by AI, India is not fully prepared to seize the enormous opportunities. According to an Accenture report, the country lags behind on key indicators of AI development, despite being home to a tech-savvy talent pool, renowned universities, healthy levels of entrepreneurship, and strong corporations. 

Anxious to avoid any risks posed by this situation, Microsoft is creating an AI-trained workforce. Over the next three years, the company aims to skill over 10,000 developers, set up AI labs in 10 universities, and train 500,000 youths across the country. 

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