Opportunity was the theme of Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella's opening address as he took the stage at his company's annual Build developer conference in Seattle May 10. And the technology giant used the occasion to announce several new tools and services intended to help its developer community capitalize on the possibilities that an increasingly data-rich world can offer to coders.
The IT industry has come a long way since software developers primarily targeted PCs and client-server environments. The amount of data generated by today's devices and tomorrow's intelligent systems eclipses the total amount of traffic that bounced around the early internet, observed Nadella. For developers, this is an opportunity to exert a heightened level of influence, he argued.
"So whether it's precision medicine or precision agriculture, whether it's digital media or the industrial internet, the opportunity for us as developers to have broad, deep impact on all parts of society and all parts of [the] economy has never been greater," Nadella said. After expounding on the responsibility developers have to empower users and build software that is inclusive and worthy of a person's trust, he outlined how Microsoft's own massive software and cloud ecosystem is rife with opportunities of its own.
Windows 10, for example, has crossed a major milestone on its way to the one-billion-device goal the company set for mid-2018. During Nadella's keynote, he revealed that there are 500 million Windows 10 devices and 100 million Office 365 commercial customers that developers can now target. Cortana, Microsoft's virtual assistant technology, is used by 140 million people each month. Twelve million organizations are using Azure Active Directory, the company's cloud-based user identity management platform.
Apart from mainstays like Windows and Office, Microsoft's growing cloud-based portfolio of artificial intelligence (AI) technologies also offers opportunities for developers according to the company. While it's early days in the AI journey for most organizations and their developers, there's reason to keep the technology firmly on one's radar, according to Dux Raymond Sy, CMO and CTO of AvePoint Public Sector, a Microsoft software partner.
“AI was a huge theme in today's keynote – from cognitive services, to bots, and beyond. As Harry Shum, Microsoft's EVP of AI research said, AI 'is about amplifying human ingenuity.' It's going to fundamentally change distributed computing, and is definitely the announcement that developers should be most excited about," he told eWEEK in email remarks. "Overall, this was the best tech keynote I've ever attended – hands down."
In a demonstration of how existing offerings, including Azure Functions, Cognitive Services and the Azure Stack hybrid-cloud solution for running cognitive services at the edge, Microsoft showed how factories, construction sites and other work environments can enhance employee safety with the use of AI. "Microsoft's AI for Workplace Safety demo underscores why trust will be a key pillar for the Intelligent Cloud's success," said John Peluso, senior vice president of Product Strategy at AvePoint.
Using those services in conjunction with commodity cameras for image recognition, Andrea Carl, director of Commercial Communications at Microsoft, deployed an image recognition model that detected a jackhammer resting in a precarious position and automatically alerted a nearby worker to the danger. The system can also be extended to recognize people, allowing workplaces to set policies that alert managers to unauthorized use of equipment.