Microsoft sets up centre for social impact projects

Microsoft sets up centre for social impact projects
Photo Credit: Photo Credit: Reuters
21 Aug, 2019

Software giant Microsoft has launched a new centre, Societal impact through Cloud and Artificial Intelligence (SCAI), which will be part of the Microsoft Research (MSR) Lab in Bengaluru.

The centre will focus on creating and nurturing projects to scale so that they can have real-world and large-scale societal impact, Microsoft said in a media statement. 

MSR India will collaborate with academia, startups and non-government organisations for such projects, the statement added.

“We are looking forward to the efforts and collaborations ahead as there are many opportunities to leverage recent advances in cloud computing and AI technologies to address long-term societal challenges spanning multiple sectors and realms, including health and wellness, education, transportation and agriculture,” said Eric Horvitz, technical fellow and director, Microsoft Research.

MSR is different from Microsoft's development centre. The research labs have a broad mandate to find breakthroughs in emerging technologies like AI, cybersecurity, human-computer interaction, natural language processing, quantum computing and blockchain.

“At MSR India, we have been conducting research in the information and communication technology for development (ICTD) space since our inception. We see SCAI as a natural evolution of this, and we will partner with like-minded collaborators to apply technology to solve some of the most pressing problems,” said Sriram Rajamani, managing director, Microsoft Research India.    

MSR employs around 100 people at the Bengaluru lab and about 45 of them are researchers. The Bengaluru lab is one of seven across the world -- three in the US and one each in Canada, Beijing and the UK. The first lab was started in 1991 at the company headquarters while the Indian lab was established in 2004. 

The collaborators in the social impact centre will be provided with financial grants, access to Microsoft researchers, technologies as well as access to business insights, the statement said.

The Redmond, Washington-based firm led by Indian origin chief executive Satya Nadella is currently working with four organisations: Respirer Living Sciences for a project focusing on urban air pollution; government medical institution The National Institute of Mental Health and neuroscience for a project on mental health; Pratham Books for assisted translation system that enables children to read storybooks in multiple languages; and Voicedeck Technologies for Learn2Earn, a programme which reinforces education and rewards learning through financial incentives.

The centre is also working with Navana Tech, which focuses on building text-free, voice-assisted technology and Three Wheels United, which enables scalable lending to clients in emerging markets through technology.

MSR India has created projects such as 99 DOTS and Digital Green projects in the past that are now independent entities addressing different societal issues, the statement said.