A More Powerful Cloud

Artificial intelligence (AI) is the next big thing in the world of computing, and it is expected to change the way we look at computers. Even the tools and methods used to create AI (machine learning, deep neural networks, etc.) are starting to power everything from search engines to your Facebook feed. Microsoft wants to stay ahead in that game and has announced the way it plans to do so: via the cloud.

Microsoft  CEO Satya Nadella has boasted that Microsoft's Azure Cloud will be the world's first AI supercomputer, and that sounds like a match made in heaven. AI, machine learning, neural networks...all of those require massive processing power, and the cloud is the perfect vehicle to deliver that power as it can utilize multiple processors and devices instead of relying on one big processor.

Microsoft has been adapting Azure and its other services, such as Bing and Office 365, to accommodate the infrastructure for AI. The company's cloud processing is not based on just traditional central processing units (CPUs), but also graphical processing units (GPUs), which can handle parallel processing much better.

It has been integrating Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs) in its cloud servers as well. These FPGAs are key to increasing the flexibility of the hardware Microsoft is using because they can be reprogrammed to "change their functionality on the fly," according to Doug Burger of Microsoft Research during an address at Microsoft Ignite.

The result is a super-fast, intelligent cloud with the ability to translate 5 billion words from one language into another in less than one-tenth of a second, "half the amount of time it takes for a human to blink," according to GeekWire.

You get AI, and you get AI...

Microsoft is not the only company bundling AI into its core services. Google has been a frontrunner in the AI race, and everything from Google's search engine to its self-driving cars use AI. Amazon also has its own GPU-powered cloud computing service that handles everything from seismic analysis to genomics. However, Azure may be the product to truly bring AI to the masses.

Microsoft has claimed that Azure Cloud will "democratize" artificial intelligence since the service can be used by anyone. Soon there will be no restrictions on who can integrate AI functions into their programs or businesses. AI technology will become a part of everyday life, and that's when we'll really see what the technology is capable of doing.

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