ESTIMATED 2017 REVENUE
EARLY INTEREST IN AI
In 1993, the company hired Carnegie Mellon computer scientist
Xuedong Huang to lead its speech-recognition efforts; in 2016, Huang
and his team’s algorithms exceeded
humans’ transcription capabilities.
Machines will work with humans,
not against them.
“AI is at the intersection of our
ambitions,” CEO Satya Nadella told
an audience of Microsoft partners
in September 2016, suggesting
that it will let the company “reason
over large amounts of data and
convert that into intelligence.”
LinkedIn ($26.2 billion, 2016).
The business network gives Microsoft a deep well of company and
employee data to make it smarter.
Microsoft debuted a real-time
AI system for its enterprise cloud
customers in August, which could
help it win business from companies that want to deploy initiatives
such as dynamic pricing and retail
WHY I T IS AHEAD
Microsoft is the tech giant most
focused on converting AI directly
into revenue, helping companies in
a wide range of industries be more
productive and effective.
Block. The tax behemoth began integrating advice from IBM’s Watson into its routine this year
and found that this input—based on 74,000 pages of U.S. tax code and delivered on a second
screen used by its preparers—increased client satisfaction. Now the company is working on
version 2.0 for next year’s tax season.
DON’T EXPECT TOO MUCH, TOO SOON
The final lesson comes back to a simple, human one: patience. There is much to be gained
from utilizing AI, but there’s also much yet to discover. The technology’s ultimate cultural
impact—despite all the prognostication, from Elon Musk to Mark Zuckerberg—is impossible
Eventually, as with previous epoch-shifting technologies, “there are people who will ride the
wave and be successful, and other people who will go against the wave and then be swept away,”
says Yunkai Zhou, who spent years building machine-learning technologies into Google’s ad
platform before cofounding startup Leap.ai. Thanks to the bold new experiments of companies
both big and small, we are all learning where the current might lead.
and speech recognition are the two
AI disciplines most
likely to have wide-ranging impact
for business applications and customer
NOVEMBER 2017 FASTCOMPANY.COM 73
*As of September 2017