Two months ago, I pointed out that iconic software giant Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) was more of an artificial intelligence company than most everyone recognized. Thanks to a handful of acquisitions and a couple of home-grown efforts, much of the long-term future value of MSFT stock was riding on how potent the company’s AI technologies were.
It turns out that Microsoft may be closer to a meaningful AI endzone than previously thought. It recently teamed up with Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN) to promote a new deep-learning programming interface called Gluon. This interface will challenge Alphabet Inc (NASDAQ:GOOGL, NASDAQ:GOOG) in the artificial intelligence arena.
And last week, Microsoft’s Vice President of Devices Panos Panay explained that the AI chips it’s developing eventually make their way into many of the devices the company makes.
Though the future of technology remains a fuzzy one, Microsoft is increasingly well positioned to capture its fair share of the market.
MSFT Artificial Intelligence, Here and Now
At first glance, it just looks like Microsoft’s HoloLens is a clever toy without enough raw computing power to make the electronic glasses a true, practical and useful augmented reality tool. And truth be told, the early versions of the HoloLens are a little pointless. But the second iteration of the HoloLens will boast its own dedicated AI chip. That may well make augmented reality functions practical and effective for users.
But it’s not the reality-augmenting artificial intelligence hardware that makes the next generation of HoloLens so interesting. It’s that Panay conceded to CNBC a week ago that Microsoft would indeed be putting similar AI chips in several of its devices in the foreseeable future. The company is still relatively quiet about what products will come with such an AI platform. But it’s clear that Microsoft sees such technologies as standard in the future. Panay explained:
“I think one of the most important things that we do in Surface and in our chip development is … the opportunity to make sure we get the technology created within Surface and then proliferate it with our partners and give everybody the opportunity to use it.”
Those partners include, among others, computer manufacturers such as Dell and HP Inc (NYSE:HPQ). Microsoft has embraced an open-use mindset, opening the door to potentially rivaling Amazon’s Alexa-powered digital assistants. In the meantime, it’s nearly a foregone conclusion that artificial intelligence tools will be introduced within Microsoft’s Surface lineup. The next version of the HoloLens will largely just be a testing ground for those consumer-centric uses.
There’s also a high likelihood that whatever AI tools are packed into Microsoft’s home-grown and partners’ hardware will be complemented by cloud-based AI, powered by its BrainWave framework.
BrainWave, in simplest terms, in an AI-acceleration platform that uses FPGAs (field-programmable gate arrays). That speeds up processing of artificial intelligence algorithms by a factor of 50, or in some cases by 100. Such a technology allows for the creation of something that can be legitimately called a neural network. BrainWave is particularly adept at handling massive amounts of text-based data.
The Azure menu will include the BrainWave platform next year, for all Azure customers to use if they wish.
MSFT Stock is Already an AI Play
In September, I wrote that Microsoft was slowly but surely becoming a major AI player. Since then, I’ve decided to remove “slowly” from the assessment. Microsoft is an artificial intelligence company right now. The lack of clarity about its artificial intelligence future has largely been wiped away. It is very clear where Microsoft is going on the AI front. Compellingly, it’s developing solutions not just for the sake of solution, but with marketability in mind.
I still contend that for all we know about what the company’s looking to do on the artificial intelligence front, there’s more we don’t know about Microsoft’s AI future. We know the company is ensuring it has a massive number of paths it could take down this road though. Most of them are revenue-bearing in the foreseeable future.
If you don’t yet see MSFT stock as a great investment in the artificial intelligence industry, you will soon enough.
As of this writing, James Brumley did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities. You can follow him on Twitter.