Microsoft has announced that the 7,500-strong Microsoft AI and Research group will include a smaller team of more than 100 scientists, called the similarly-sounding Microsoft Research AI group.

This team will serve as an incubation hub within the research division, with a focus on solving what the company calls some of AI’s most difficult challenges. 

Plus a new ethics panel

Harry Shum
– Microsoft

“We are living in a golden age of AI advances,” team lead Harry Shum said. “We as a technology company have the chance to channel all those innovations into tools that help people do their jobs better and more efficiently, and that solve some of the world’s toughest challenges. Using AI, we are already finding better ways to do things as seemingly narrow as determining what email warrants your attention and as astonishingly complex as discovering a personalized cancer treatment.

“As technology that uses AI gets smarter, we want to ensure that we take a responsible approach to our progress – and one that will ultimately provide the most benefit to our customers and to society as a whole.”

Eric Horvitz, director of Microsoft Research Labs, told Bloomberg that the goal of the new team was to combine scientists from various sub-fields of AI research including perception, learning, reasoning and natural language processing.

“The field has undergone a tremendous amount of centrifugal force over the years,” Horvitz said. The lab aims to bring the researchers back together.

The team will work on general-purpose learning systems rather than narrow AI, in an effort that appears to be similar to Google’s DeepMind and Google Brain teams.

Microsoft Research AI will also partner with the Center for Brains, Minds and Machines at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

With the rapid progress of AI, concerns have been raised by consumers, rights groups and the scientific community. With this in mind, Microsoft said that it is creating a new company-wide advisory panel called AI and Ethics in Engineering and Research (Aether), chaired by Horvitz, to provide ethical oversight for the company’s AI efforts.

On a similar note, the company also announced the ‘AI for Earth’ initiative, offering $2 million in cloud-computing credits and training to scientists doing research on sustainability issues, led by Microsoft chief environmental scientist Lucas Joppa.