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Microsoft takes community approach to artificial intelligence in Sweden

Microsoft is making increasing use of artificial intelligence in Sweden as it shares experiences with the development community

Microsoft is seeing wide adoption of artificial intelligence (AI) in the Nordic region and developers are using its tools to integrate the technology with their applications.

The software giant is eager to share its knowledge with customers and developers and encourages them to share with each other, too.

Computer Weekly met Florian Otel, product marketing manager at Microsoft in Gothenburg, to discuss the democratisation of AI in the Nordic region and the important role played by developers.

At the recent IP Expo Nordics event in Stockholm, Microsoft was keen to discuss the spread of AI. For its part, Microsoft provides AI to developer partners in the form of software development toolkits.

Otel told Computer Weekly that because AI is a generic term, it is difficult to explain it in few words. “You can think of AI as different technologies that are infused across the industry and put to use in very different types of product,” he said.

For example, language and image recognition are two different and important features of AI that can be used, said Otel.

When it comes to language recognition, the development of chatbots is popular among Microsoft’s clients, he said. “Many of our customers use chatbots to replace human agents in call centres. They have automated content used to reply to end-user questions and to serve as a first line of interaction between a company and end-users. For instance, chatbots work well for user interaction in social media and for customer support, be that answering phone calls or as instructive guides.”

AI is also being integrated with imaging technology to perform functions that normally require humans with expertise. Otel described how a Norwegian company that deals with fish is using AI image recognition to recognise fish and can even sort different types within the same species.

Read more about AI use in the Nordics

An important way to drive the use of AI is to pass on information about tried-and-tested applications of the technology. To this end, Microsoft provides customer developers with tools that incorporate experiences and knowhow from other customers who have already built useful products. Use cases are shared within the same industry or between industries.

But it’s not just customers who have a lot to learn, said Otel. “Simply put, we like to help and inspire our customers. At the same time, we are want to learn with our customers.”

For example, Microsoft organises hands-on labs. A recent example in Sweden was a hackathon in December involving the internet of things (IoT), and AI played an important part.

It also runs webinars for customers about the application of AI in businesses and information about how systems were built.

Microsoft’s engagement with customers who are developing apps is enhanced through its software development kits (SDKs), which are often free, enabling the creation of platforms where developers can contribute ideas.

“You can ask questions and provide feedback,” said Otel. “This is a brilliant way for Microsoft to engage with the customer. Customers can share experiences and contribute features they have developed. They can also suggest features that they would like to have. In this way, it is possible for Microsoft to engage closely with its developer community. Together we build new use cases.”

Microsoft can work with developers that are building applications or directly with end-users, and all users build products via Microsoft’s technology.

“We see a lot of very interesting new players here in Sweden,” said Otel. “The economic situation in the Nordics is very good at the moment, so this could be a perfect time to start exploring whether you are interested in starting your own AI business.”

Partner in AI ecosystem

One partner in Microsoft’s AI ecosystem is the Crayon Group, headquartered in Norway’s capital, Oslo. Computer Weekly spoke with Trond Lutdal, vice-president, AI and machine learning, at Crayon, which is listed on the Norwegian Stock Exchange.

Lutdal said AI is really making progress in the region, for three reasons – high availability of data; improved compute power, which means it is possible to handle large amounts of data; and good connections that enable you to send data wherever you want.

“We have a centre of excellence for applied AI,” said Lutdal. “We have delivered about 50 AI products to customers and we function as consultants so that users can reach their goals.”

Lutdal described machine learning as the “most important ingredient” and said: “Typically, users want to try AI on something that will have a limited impact. They want to learn more before using it on more important procedures. They have heard about AI, but can’t predict exactly what will happen to their own industry when they use it.”

Lutdal said Crayon engages with senior executives at customer companies to ensure they understand AI and form a strategy for its use.

Many of Crayon’s employees are mathematicians and physicists with PhDs. “You need a special mindset to work with AI and deep knowledge of the domain,” said Lutdal.

In a few years’ time, AI will be everywhere, but today companies need support to navigate the technology, he said, adding: “As well as making businesses profitable, AI can also help to solve, or probably even eradicate, the big issues we work on to make our world better. AI can help us to fight poverty and famine, and find solutions to healthcare issues.”

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