Despite becoming the CEO of the world’s third biggest company in 2014, there was still one ambition Microsoft chief Satya Nadella had left unrealised.
Until yesterday, when the cricket fanatic stepped out onto the hallowed turf of ‘the G’, Melbourne Cricket Ground, a moment he had fantasised about since his school days in India.
“Onto the field! Which was really one of my dreams, all my life,” he said today in Sydney.
On “probably not the best day to talk about cricket in Australia” (the Australian team suffering its worst start to the summer season since 1988 after a defeat to South Africa), Nadella was at The Star casino to tell the audience of more than 1,000 developers how his company could help them “achieve their dreams”, or at least: “imagine the future, build it and create it”.
“At Microsoft, we aim to empower every Australian citizen and organisation to achieve more,” he said. “Core to this is empowering every Australian developer with the most complete platforms and technology to build new applications and experiences that will fuel and accelerate digital transformation in every industry.”
That empowerment, he said, is coming through the “democratisation” of artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and cloud computing, which will now be available to every developer and business.
“I am a product of the democratising technology of Microsoft reaching me where I was growing up,” Nadella said. “My entire story is a reflection of this company doing what it does to bring technology to all corners of the globe.”
Release the bots
Nadella used his keynote to announce Azure Functions, which lets customers run compute functions without provisioning servers, and a new Azure Bot service, which enables developers to build and deploy intelligent chat bots in Microsoft's cloud.
“Just like you built websites in the past or mobile applications in the past, you’re going to now start building bots as new interfaces, new applications,” Nadella said. “You’re going to take every business process and build a bot interface. But in order to do that you need to have natural language understanding. And that’s what the bot framework enables. For every developer.”
The 49-year-old, who took over the reins of Microsoft from Steve Ballmer two years ago, also announced the general availability of its N-series virtual machines.
The N-series – which provides users with the ability to run high-performance workloads like AI research, complex rendering and neural network training which require the power of GPUs to handle massive parallel computing tasks – are already being utilised by not-for-profit OpenAI and will be more widely available in December.
OpenAI – backed by the likes of Tesla CEO Elon Musk, controversial investor Peter Thiel and LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman – was one of a number of case studies including Cricket Australia, the Department of Human Services (DHS) and Webjet that Nadella shared as inspiration to the gathered developers.
Pushing the boundary
Cricket Australia (possibly as a result of a captain’s call by Nadella) was named yesterday as one of the first sporting bodies globally and the first cricket code to trial Microsoft’s Sports Management Platform and use machine learning, predictive analytics and rich visualisation to manage and analyse its performance and player data. Nadella said the idea of Microsoft being used to aid performance in cricket was “perhaps one of the most empowering things I’ve seen in my life”.
The DHS, having just upgraded its 35,000 employees onto Windows 10 in APAC’s biggest deployment, will soon embark on a pioneering proof of concept to deliver intelligent customer experiences powered by deep learning. Webjet shared how it had built a blockchain proof-of-concept solution with Microsoft to manage online payments for hotel bookings.
New compute fabric
Microsoft’s new offerings would form a new compute fabric, Nadella said.
“When you put these things together, what you see is the beginnings of a complete new compute fabric that can allow you as developers to build applications with immense power. To change every industry and every walk of life. That’s what is really in front of us,” he said.
“It’s really about what others do with the technology. To me, our goal as a company is to provide the tools, the platforms so that developers can then have that profound impact across industries, across all walks of life.”