Microsoft Forms AI Research Group

Microsoft has formed a special artificial-intelligence research unit to challenge rivals Google, DeepMind and Facebook.

The group, based at its Redmond, Washington, headquarters, is called Microsoft Research AI. It will include a team of more than 100 scientists working on AI from across areas such as natural language processing and learning.

Some of the projects will be related to healthcare, environment and education.

The news announced at Microsoft’s AI event in London this week.

They range from chatbots to a partnership with the University of Amsterdam's machine-learning expert Max Welling to the availability of Seeing AI, a new iOS app available to the blind and visually impaired.

The iOS app uses the smartphone camera to describe the world around the visually impaired. It relies on computer vision to identify the objects and provide information on their surroundings.

The app can read aloud text from signs and documents. It describes a person's surroundings and emotions from people around them. It can also recognize the value of currency, scan barcodes and more.

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Microsoft has spent the past year talking up chatbots and developing ways for those searching on the Web to find and access them without performing a search. Based on keyword terms and queries, Microsoft discovered a way to index them in Bing — then have them intuitively served up in search results.

The search engine will serve up a series of bots in cards or box, based on the keyword query. For example, someone searching for information on plane flights might see a series of bots related to travel, such as the one from Expedia, which launched its bot late in 2017.

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