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How scientists are confronting environmental challenges with the help of AI

Counting trees

mountains trees and sky

Using AI and machine learning, SilviaTerra maps and monitors forests, yielding data about trees across the continental United States. The high-resolution, tree-level map of the United States is the first of its kind. It gives conservationists and landowners critical details to sustainably manage forests at a fraction of the time and cost of traditional surveys.

Growing more with less

man works in garden

Farmers face an uphill battle as arable land and water supplies dwindle, while the global population grows. FarmBeats, a program that uses Microsoft’s cloud and AI technologies to help farmers sustainably improve yields and lower costs, evaluates sensor data and aerial imagery against weather forecasts and crop predictions to enable data-driven agricultural practices.   

Identifying snow leopards by their spots

a snow leopard with mountain in the background
Photo by SLCF Mongolia/Snow Leopard Trust

Snow leopards are rare, with an estimated population of just 4,000 to 6,000 in the wild, and remote camera trap photography is one of the only reliable ways to study their behaviors. Historically, researchers have sifted through thousands of photos manually to find snow leopard images and use that data to protect the species from poaching, mining, climate change and other threatsNow researchers at the Snow Leopard Trust are using a Microsoft AI automation tool to automatically classify images in minutes rather than hours, combining years of data into a comprehensive database. This allows them to focus on advancing conservation science instead of manually poring through images.   

Protecting key watersheds

satellite data map
Photo provided by Chesapeake Conservancy

Scientists are using Microsoft’s AI and cloud technologies to create highly detailed maps to help conserve the world’s water resources. Chesapeake Conservancysupported by an AI for Earth grant, is working to integrate AI technology to produce high-resolution land cover and land use maps for precision conservations to improve water quality throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed. With this data, the Conservancy is supporting progress in the restoration of the bay. 

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‘Gears of War’ 2019 Funko Pop! collection available May 23

The next wave of Gears of War Funko Pop! figures are about to hit store shelves this Thursday, May 23! As we announced earlier this month, the mainline collection includes Kait Diaz in her winter gear from last year’s Gears 5 trailer, Marcus Fenix in his classic gear, Queen Myrrah, the Locust Boomer and the GameStop exclusive Skorge.

But that’s not all! Also releasing on Thursday is a limited-edition Collector’s Box which includes four Gears Pop! pins, a Gears Pop! baseball hat, a Gears Pop! artbook and four limited release Pop! figures: a red Skorge with shaded details, a gold-dipped of Marcus Fenix, a patinaed Myrrah, and Anya Stroud. The Collector’s Box is available exclusively at GameStop (in-stores and online) with limited quantities at EB Games, Sportscard Australia, select retailers throughout Europe and at E3.

All of these Pop! figures include a digital code for the upcoming Gears Pop! mobile game, which releases later this year. The code can be redeemed to your Xbox Live account starting May 23 – once the game has launched, the specific content associated with the code will unlock as it is released in game.

For more information on the Gears franchise, stay tuned to Xbox Wire, and to keep up to date with the latest information about Gears Pop!, you can visit www.gearspop.com and follow @GearsPop on Twitter.

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Harnessing big data in pediatric research to reimagine healthcare

For many of us, life begins in the hospital—and so does our health data. Health organizations worldwide are amassing more information than ever before from millions of patients throughout their lifetimes. Wrangling massive volumes of health data—from smart devices, medical devices, electronic medical records and community health systems—is no small task, but cloud computing offers researchers a promising way to tap into this resource to achieve meaningful medical progress and improved patient outcomes. Microsoft for Healthcare aims to do just that: harness the power of data to reimagine healthcare, improve the health of the population, and, ultimately, help save lives.

YouTube Video

Zeroing in on clues

One of the most promising examples of this is in our collaboration with Seattle Children’s Research Institute. We are working together to find clues to a persistent and tragic medical mystery that hits close to home: Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Every year, more than 3,500 infants die of SIDS-related causes in the United States. One of these children was the son of John Kahan, my colleague and Microsoft’s chief data analytics officer. John has made it his mission for no parent to lose a child to SIDS, and with his data science team at Microsoft and our friends at Seattle Children’s, they are working toward that goal in earnest.

The team started with publicly available data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on 26 million births and deaths, and along with other data sets, studied 90 columns of data about every child born in the U.S. over a six-year period. Through this data science effort done in the cloud on Microsoft Azure, they discovered several correlations that showed statistical increases in SIDS. They then brought those findings to Seattle Children’s Research Institute, one of the world leaders in pediatric genomics and brain research— and lucky for us, right in our backyard.

Since then, we’ve been working together to expand the effort and the science, creating a collaborative genomics database for Seattle Children’s and the top SIDS medical researchers worldwide, and a world-class team of Microsoft data scientists. Together, we recently published our first manuscript from this collaboration in the peer-reviewed medical journal, Pediatrics, in which we used advanced modelling techniques to analyze the relationship between maternal smoking during pregnancy and SIDS-related deaths. Going forward, the hope is to use sequenced whole genomes as an additional data set along with the CDC data and other information in Microsoft Azure, helping to identify SIDS risk factors and, ultimately, ways to help prevent SIDS.

Similarly, we’ve been able to assist pediatric cancer researchers. Working with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and our partner DNAnexus, we’ve been thrilled to be a part of the creation of the St. Jude Cloud—a cloud-based data-sharing and collaboration environment based on Microsoft Azure that contains an extensive public repository of pediatric cancer genomics data. St. Jude Cloud stores and shares thousands of cancer patient samples mapped against the human genome template, enabling researchers around the world to access and exchange data on a global basis. Researchers from more than 450 institutions across 16 countries now have immediate access to data that previously could take weeks to download, as well as access to complex computational analysis pipelines. The availability of this data could lead to progress in eradicating childhood cancer.

Clues like these seed future research, turning mere hints into new medical and biological knowledge, diagnostics, or therapeutics. Like John Kahan, many of our data scientists have been touched personally by medical or health issues and are exceptionally motivated to help solve these puzzles.

Reimagining healthcare

Collaborations like those with Seattle Children’s and St. Jude are just the beginning. Our technology is in virtually every healthcare organization in the world, from a nurse-led clinic in Kenya to larger organizations like Kaiser Permanente in the United States and NHS Glasgow and Clyde in the United Kingdom, putting us in a unique position to build and expand solutions with cloud computing and AI.

For us, reimagining healthcare starts with finding well-defined and well-scoped problems, then bringing together the best minds from a diverse set of disciplines and people—computer science, AI and data science, bioscience and medical—to solve them.

By analyzing masses of data with trusted cloud computing, one health concern at a time, we have a chance to extract new knowledge that could make a positive difference—empowering healthcare teams, improving operational outcomes and care coordination, and personalizing care.

Join us in reimagining healthcare. To learn more about harnessing the power of health data with cloud computing, take a look at our new e-book A New Framework for Healthcare in a Digital World. For a deeper dive on Microsoft Genomics visit here.

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Rebuilding an icon: a call for the sharing of open data to help restore Notre-Dame

Pigeon outside notre dameSince its completion more than 675 years ago, the medieval cathedral of Notre-Dame has captivated millions of people with its incomparable beauty. From its legendary stained glass rose window to its towering spire, it’s widely regarded as one of the most stunning examples of medieval architecture in history.

A staple of the Parisian skyline and a global icon, the recent tragedy which saw the cathedral engulfed in flames shook Parisians and onlookers around the world. While thankfully no one was hurt, the iconic spire, oak frame and lead roof were lost.

The reconstruction and repair of the damage is a top priority, calling for the work to be completed within five years. One factor which could greatly aid in this process, is the vast amount of data, surveys and documentation that exist on Notre-Dame – information that has been recorded and collected by numerous parties over decades.

Microsoft and Iconem – an innovative startup that specialises in the recreation of endangered cultural heritage sites in 3D – have announced the Open Notre-Dame initiative. Together, they combine their skills to contribute to the restoration of Notre Dame through an open data project.

“Open Notre Dame” is a visual data provision in open source, designed to better understand and analyze the building in its history. This initiative will not only help gather and analyze as many existing documents as possible on the monument but also produce 3D models to make them available to everyone. Through this project, Iconem and Microsoft intend to contribute to preserve and spread the French heritage.

Having already created detailed 3D models of other French heritage sites such as Mont-Saint-Michel, Iconem’s access to data from third parties such as archival plans and photos can provide a historical evolution of the cathedral before the fire – improving the accuracy of the model and roof structure.

The temporal models of the Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral will be made available on GitHub, the world’s leading software development platform. The opening and the sharing of all these data via GitHub will come directly to feed different initiatives and competences: the EPFL of Lausanne (which creates dynamic models of cities), and Inria, the consortium Humanun (CNRS and Archeovision) – and will allow feeding all the scientific studies around the building. Many partners already contribute to the project thanks to their surveys, images, and plans that will serve as a basis for these open source models: aerial images (Yann Arthus-Bertrand, TSVP), very high-resolution images (Cornis company and first readings by Iconem), and thousands of pieces of documentation collected by Ubisoft.

If we continue to work together and sharing our knowledge, the great cathedral of Notre-Dame will be restored to its former glory once again.

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GDPR’s first anniversary: A year of progress in privacy protection

May 25 marks one year since the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation officially went into effect. GDPR is a groundbreaking privacy framework that empowers residents of the EU to control their personal information so they can use digital technologies to engage freely and safely with each other and with the world.

A lot has happened on the global privacy front since GDPR went into force. Overall, companies that collect and process personal information for people living in the EU have adapted, putting new systems and processes in place to ensure that individuals understand what data is collected about them and can correct it if it is inaccurate and delete it or move it somewhere else if they choose.

This has improved how companies handle their customers’ personal data. And it has inspired a global movement that has seen countries around the world adopt new privacy laws that are modeled on GDPR. Brazil, China, India, Japan, South Korea and Thailand are among the nations that have passed new laws, proposed new legislation, or are considering changes to existing laws that will bring their privacy regulations into closer alignment with GDPR.

Empowering people to manage their information through our privacy dashboard

The driving force behind the global movement to modernize privacy laws is the new understanding people have of their right to privacy as technology changes how people create and share information. Around the world, there is a growing expectation that everyone should benefit from digital technology without losing control of their personal information. This is why Microsoft was the first company to provide the data control rights at the heart of GDPR to our customers around the globe, not just in Europe.

One year later, the ever-growing number of people using our privacy dashboard is a clear sign that people want to be empowered to control their data. Since GDPR went into effect, more than 18 million people from around the world have used our tool to manage their personal information. The highest level of engagement, both on a per capita basis and in absolute numbers, continues to come from the United States where about 6.7 million people have used the dashboard. Not surprisingly, residents of European countries covered under GDPR also account for a significant percentage of people who have visited the privacy dashboard—to date more than 4 million of our customers in the EU have logged on to manage their data.

Map showing use of the Microsoft Privacy Dashboard around the world
But the demand is truly global. Japan ranks No. 2 in using the privacy dashboard and Canada is fifth. Other countries in the top 10 included Brazil, China, Mexico and Australia.

Transforming culture and advancing privacy throughout the digital economy

To elevate the importance of privacy and embed it in their operational systems, companies like Microsoft that have fully embraced GDPR have undergone a profound cultural shift that begins at the executive level and reaches across the entire organization. Today, at Microsoft our responsibility to protect our customers’ privacy is the starting point for everything we do. Our commitment to greater user control and empowerment is stronger than ever.

You can see the results of this cultural transformation across our products and services. Last month, for example, we announced new steps to increase transparency about the data we collect when people use our products and to provide them with greater control over how their data is used. Those steps include describing the data we collect in clear and simple language; and making it easier for people to control their personal information. To enhance transparency, we are improving documentation and introducing a new biannual report about our data collection procedures.

We are also providing tools to help our customers meet their own privacy obligations under GDPR. To make it easier for game developers to comply with GDPR, we developed tools so they can allow players to view or delete data that is stored about them. We’re delivering features that improve how businesses secure sensitive data and protect the privacy of their employees and customers. We offer encryption to enable companies to protect sensitive data including credit cards and national IDs such as U.S. Social Security numbers. To help companies safeguard sensitive information on mobile devices, we announced a set of advanced privacy and security capabilities that enable companies’ IT administrators to better enforce privacy and security protection policies. And in April, we released new privacy tools for Office365 ProPlus that provide greater control over diagnostic data that is sent to Microsoft, and over optional cloud-based features in Office that enhance functionality.

Toward a framework for new privacy laws in the U.S. and interoperability around the globe

No matter how much work companies like Microsoft do to help organizations secure sensitive data and empower individuals to manage their own data, preserving a strong right to privacy will always fundamentally be a matter of law that falls to governments. Despite the high level of interest in exercising control over personal data from U.S. consumers, the United States has yet to join the EU and other nations around the world in passing national legislation that accounts for how people use technology in their lives today.

In the absence of federal action, California took an important first step forward in advancing privacy protection with the passage of the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), which goes into effect on January 1, 2020. A watershed for U.S. privacy law, CCPA was the first law in the United States to include rights inspired by GDPR.

Now, it’s Congress’s turn to adopt a new framework that reflects the changing understanding of the right to privacy in the United States and around the world. Like GDPR, this framework should uphold the fundamental right to privacy through rules that give people control over their data and require greater accountability and transparency in how companies use the personal information they collect.

California’s law is a good starting point. But federal legislation should go further and ensure that companies act as responsible stewards of consumers’ personal data. One way to achieve this is by requiring assessments that weigh the benefits of data processing against potential privacy risks to those whose data is processed.

This is important because the prevailing opt-in/opt-out privacy model in the United States forces consumers to make a decision for every website and online service they visit. This places an unreasonable—and unworkable—burden on individuals. Strong federal privacy should not only empower consumers to control their data, it also should place accountability obligations on the companies that collect and use sensitive personal information.

Federal law must also include strong enforcement provisions. As I saw first-hand when I served on the Federal Trade Commission, laws currently on the books are simply not strong enough to enable the FTC to protect privacy effectively in today’s complex digital economy.

Finally, while federal privacy legislation should reflect U.S. legal precedent—and the cultural values and norms of American society—it should also work with GDPR. For American businesses, interoperability between U.S. law and GDPR will reduce the cost and complexity of compliance by ensuring that companies don’t have to build separate systems to meet differing—and even conflicting—requirements for privacy protection in the countries where they do business.

In the year since it went into effect, GDPR has been an important catalyst for progress in privacy protection. Countries around the world have implemented new laws that reflect the new understanding people have for privacy in our digital era. Some companies are doing a better job of handling sensitive personal data and they have delivered new tools that make it easier for people to manage and control their personal information.

Now it is time for Congress to take inspiration from the rest of the world and enact federal legislation that extends the privacy protections in GDPR to citizens in the United States.

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Video games: A unifying force for the world

My father, a chemical engineer, brought home our first computer, a Sinclair ZX81, which came out in 1981. We played games together and then later, we wrote games together.

Today, for many people around the world, gaming is the first entry point into technology, just like it was for me.

I believe in two fundamental truths about gaming:

First, gaming is for everyone. No one group “owns” gaming. Instead, whether you’re new to gaming or are a diehard e-sports fan, you are welcome to play and welcome to all the fun and skill-building that comes with gaming. In this way, when everyone can play, the entire world wins.

If you imagine gamers as predominantly men and specifically teen boys, think again. We are a 2.6 billion-person strong community of parents playing with our kids, adventurers exploring worlds together, teachers making math wondrous, grandmothers learning about their grandchildren through play, and soldiers connecting with their folks back home. Most gamers today are adults; nearly half are women.

Second, gaming must promote and protect the safety of all. Gaming must be a safe environment. Creating community is shared work, and protecting community is essential work, so, we all carry part of the payload of community safety – game industry and gamers alike.

This widespread embrace of gaming and its global communities have turned video games into the world’s leading cultural industry, bigger than movies or music. But it also comes at a time when digital life includes a growing toxic stew of hate speech, bigotry and misogyny.

No different from rock and roll, books and TV before them, video games are often dismissed or maligned as frivolous, fraught with violence or filled exclusively with hate-mongering. But gaming is uniquely designed for equality. We don’t just walk in someone’s shoes – we stand on equal footing, regardless of age, education, socioeconomics, race, religion, politics, gender, orientation, ethnicity, nationality, or ability. Gaming doesn’t just bring stereotype-defying gamers together; it unites us through our universal language of fun and answers our human need to play. Research has shown an effective way to battle polarization and prejudice is through relationships with people outside our own groups, known as intergroup contact theory. This is where gaming excels: forging unexpected friendships with people we might never meet in real life. Dr. Linda Tropp, a professor of psychology at University of Massachusetts Amherst, observes, “As an interactive form of entertainment, gaming environments have the potential to bring people together for collaborations across differences, and to build empathy and mutual understanding through play.”

When people call video games a waste a time, I point them to the well-documented health and social benefits of gaming. Beyond pure exhilaration, gaming helps children with autism make new friends and seniors with Alzheimer’s improve their memory. Researchers have found that gaming teaches adults leadership, improves decision-making and reduces stress and depression and also teaches kids computational skills and empathy. Gaming is the gateway to these 21st century skills and to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). Just consider: teen girls who play video games are three times more likely to pursue a STEM degree. Among teenagers who play games online with others daily, 74% have made friends online and 37% have made more than five friends online. 

By uniting as an industry, we can thoughtfully and deliberately continue building a safe and inclusive gaming environment for everyone. Microsoft, Team Xbox, and I are personally committing to this, beginning with the following principles and actions:

We commit to be vigilant, proactive, and swift. Our Xbox Safety team is nicknamed the “Defenders of Joy” because we will defend you in every humanly and technologically possible way, so gaming remains fun. We will identify potentials for abuse and misuse on our platform and will fix problems quickly. We are also intent on expanding the composition of our safety team so wide-ranging perspectives can help us identify future safety problems and solutions. Because hate and harassment have no place in gaming, we recently published a refreshed version of our Xbox Community Standards to communicate how each of us can keep gaming fun and safe for all and detail the consequences when any of us break these standards. A welcoming community is the key to a safe community, so our 150,000 Xbox Ambassadors – community leaders, stewards, and allies – will be engaged to embark on new community missions to help create an inviting and safe environment for all gamers. We will also continue to roll out new programs for the health of our entire gaming community.

We commit to empowering you to safeguard your gaming experience the way you want. We believe in equipping you with the tools to customize your gaming experience fit for your personal comfort level. This summer, we are empowering our official Club community managers with proactive content moderation features that will help create safe spaces for fans to discuss their favorite games. We plan to roll out new content moderation experiences to everyone on Xbox Live by the end of 2019. Creating a Child or Teen Account is the easiest way for parents and guardians to manage who their kids engage with as well as their family’s screen time, content and spending. While more than 26 million Child and Teen accounts have been created to-date, we will make it easier for parents and guardians new to console and PC gaming to discover and create Child or Teen accounts. This year, Microsoft Stores rolled out a series of family workshops to help parents understand the tools available to them on console and PC, and this summer we are launching Gaming Summer Camps offering young gamers new ways to explore life skills and practice healthy habits that can be used in gaming and everyday life. Additionally, we recently launched a new “For Everyone” destination on Xbox.com where parents, guardians and players can learn how we’re making gaming more fun for everyone with our new inclusivity, accessibility, and safety features. We’re innovating now in these and other concrete ways to reduce, filter, and develop a shared understanding of toxic experiences, and to ultimately put our community of gamers, and their parents or guardians, in control of their own experiences.

We commit to working across the gaming industry on safety measures. Because we intend to protect all gamers, we will openly share safety innovations with our industry the same way Microsoft has made PhotoDNA technology universally available to everyone from the police to the tech industry to fight the spread of child pornography. Today, multiple teams working in areas like moderation, user research, data science, and others are already aligning with industry partners to share insights, and best practices in areas of safety, security and privacy.

The gaming community continues to grow rapidly, and the imminent roll-out of new game services such as Apple Arcade, Google Stadia and Microsoft’s Project xCloud, will make gaming available to even more people worldwide. Our industry must now answer the fierce urgency to play with our fierce urgency for safety.

We invite everyone who plays games, and industry partners, to join us in following these principles to help unify the world and do our part: make gaming accessible for everyone and protect gamers, one and all.

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Building responsible and trustworthy conversational AI

From financial robo-advisors to virtual health assistants, enterprises across every industry are leveraging virtual assistants to create outstanding customer experiences and help employees maximize their time. As artificial intelligence technology continues to advance, virtual assistants will handle more and more mundane and repetitive tasks, freeing people to devote more time and energy to more productive and creative endeavors.

But like any technology, conversational AI can pose a significant risk when it’s developed and deployed improperly or irresponsibly, especially when it’s used to help people navigate information related to employment, finances, physical health, and mental well-being. For enterprises and society to realize the full potential of conversational AI, we believe bots need to be designed to act responsibly and earn user trust.

Last year, to help businesses meet this challenge, we shared 10 guidelines for building responsible conversational AI. Today, we’d like to illustrate how we’ve applied these guidelines in our own organization and share new resources that can help developers in any industry do the same.

Responsible bot guidelines

In November 2018, Lili Cheng, corporate vice president of Microsoft AI and Research, announced guidelines designed to help organizations develop bots that build trust in their services and their brands. We created these bot guidelines based on our own experiences, our research on responsible AI and by listening to our customers and partners. The guidelines are just that — guidelines. They represent the things that we found useful to think about from the very beginning of the design process. They encourage companies and organizations to think about how their bot will interact with people and how to mitigate potential risks. Ultimately, the guidelines are all about trust, because if people don’t trust the technology, they aren’t going to use it.

Designing bots with these guidelines in mind  

The bot guidelines have already started to play a central role in our own internal development processes. For example, our marketing team leveraged the guidelines while creating an AI-based lead qualification assistant that emails potential customers to determine their interest in Microsoft products and solutions. The assistant uses natural language processing to interact with customers, ensuring they receive the information they need or are directed to the Microsoft employee who can best help them. To provide a useful example, we’ve highlighted the ways in which our marketing team has approached three of the guidelines below.

  • Articulate the purpose of your bot and take special care if your bot will support consequential use cases.

Since the assistant would be customer-facing, the marketing team recognized the importance of completely thinking through every aspect of how the bot would work. Before building the lead qualification assistant, they created a vision and scope document that outlined the bot’s expected tasks, technical considerations, expected benefits and end goals in terms of business performance. By outlining these details early in the design process, the team was able to focus on developing and refining only necessary capabilities and deploy the bot sooner. Creating this document also helped them identify and design for edge cases that the bot was likely to encounter and establish a set of effective reliability metrics.

  • Ensure a seamless hand-off to a person where the person-bot exchange leads to interactions that exceed the bot’s competence.

While considering these edge use cases, the marketing team identified a couple of scenarios in which a handoff to a person would be required. First, if the assistant can’t determine the customer’s intent (for example, the response is too complex or lengthy), then the assistant will flag the conversation for a person. The person can then direct the assistant to the next best course of action or respond directly to the customer. The person also can use key phrases from the conversation to train the assistant to respond to similar situations in the future.

Secondly, the customer may ask something that the assistant doesn’t have pre-programmed. For example, a student may request information about our products and solutions but not be interested in making a purchase. The assistant would flag the conversation instead of forwarding it to sales. A person can then reply through the assistant to help the student learn more.

  • Ensure your bot is reliable

To help ensure the bot is performing as designed, the marketing team reviews a set of reliability metrics (such as the accuracy of determining intent or conversation bounce rate) through a regularly updated dashboard. As the team updates and improves the bot, it can closely analyze the impact of each change on the bot’s reliability and make adjustments as necessary.

Helping developers put the guidelines into practice

We have taken lessons learned from experiences like this one and important work from our industry-leading researchers to create actionable and comprehensive learning resources for developers.

As part of our free, online AI School, our Conversational AI learning path enables developers to start building sophisticated conversational AI agents using services such as natural language understanding or speech translation. We have recently added another module, Responsible Conversational AI, to this learning path. It covers how developers can design deeply intelligent bots and also ensure they are built in a responsible and trustworthy manner. In this learning path, developers can explore topics such as bot reliability, accessibility, security and consequential use cases and learn how to mitigate concerns that often arise with conversational AI. We have also created a Conversational AI lab in which a sample bot guides developers through a responsible conversational AI experience and explains its behavior at each point of the experience.

Learn more

We encourage you to share the AI lab and the Responsible Conversational AI learning module with technical decision-makers in your organization.

You can also go to our new AI Business School to learn more about how Microsoft has integrated AI throughout our business and how your organization can do the same.

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Minecraft celebrates 10 years with ‘Minecraft Earth’ announcement and trailer

This is an incredibly exciting time for Minecraft. Ten years ago today, the game launched on PC. Now, Minecraft has sold more than 176 million copies to-date in virtually every country in the world. As a way to celebrate 10 years for the franchise, we announced today a brand-new Minecraft game – Minecraft Earth.

Minecraft Earth is an all new free-to-play augmented reality game for mobile that will bring the creative nature of Minecraft to the real world.

The game’s mechanics are simple: explore your neighborhood to find blocks and unique mobs for your builds. Once you have them, any flat surface is an opportunity to build.  Team up with friends to create amazing builds on Build Plates, and then place them in the real world to explore at life-size. You can even put your survival skills to the test and battle mobs IRL!  Craft new items, breed mobs, grow crops –it’s Minecraft as you know it in a way you’ve never seen before. There’s endless fun to be had and it’s even better with friends.

The game blends state-of-the-art Microsoft technology like Azure Spatial Anchors AR tracking and PlayFab integration to bring the Minecraft Earth experience to life.

We’ll have more exciting news to share very soon. For now, the best way to stay up-to-date on the latest Minecraft Earth information, and upcoming closed betas, head to http://minecraft.net/earth. Additionally, as our 10-Year Celebration rolls on, head on over to www.Minecraft.net for the latest news and announcements.

We can’t wait to see where the next ten years of Minecraft takes us and we’re excited that we’re able to take part in this journey right alongside our passionate community. Happy building!

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Now live: Microsoft Business Applications Summit 2019 session catalog

The full session catalog for the Microsoft Business Applications Summit is now available! Explore more than 150 expert-led sessions and workshops (plus 16 pre-days!) packed into this two-day conference, taking place in Atlanta, Georgia June 10 – 11, 2019. Registration is still open, so secure your spot today.

Microsoft Business Applications Summit is your team’s opportunity to collaborate and learn alongside a vibrant community of power users, analysts, technical architects, developers, and more. Unleash your organization’s potential by learning how to break down data silos to connect customers, products, people, and operations. Meet the engineers, hang out with our inspiring community, and explore the latest innovations.

150+ ways to ramp up business-transforming skills

The session catalog is packed with hints and hacks to ramp up your skills and transform your business. Learn how to innovate at every level with Dynamics 365’s modular, multi-channel applications that work seamlessly with your existing systems. Uncover new capabilities, expand your know-how with the features you already use, and solve common challenges with guidance from the experts and engineers behind the tools you use every day. Plus, learn about the latest trends and product roadmaps before anyone else.

Here’s a sample of what’s in store this year, and be sure to check the session catalog for the full rundown and latest updates:

Special guest keynote with Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, aka the “Mayor of the Internet.”

Also just announced, Alexis Ohanian will deliver our special guest keynote! Dubbed the “Mayor of the Internet” by Forbes, Ohanian co-founded Reddit in 2005. Since then, the site has grown into one of the Internet’s most powerful community gathering spaces. It’s currently the 6th largest website in the world.

Ohanian has invested in and advised more than 200 tech startups, was a partner at Y Combinator, and co-founded Initialized Capital, an early stage venture capital firm, where he now serves as managing partner. He also created and hosted two seasons of Small Empires, a series profiling tech startups and their communities. Named to Forbes’ “30 Under 30” list two years in a row, Ohanian is the bestselling author of Without Their Permission, a guidebook for harnessing the power of the Internet for good.

You won’t want to miss this visionary keynote, sure to inspire you to take your organization to the next level with innovative new solutions.

All this, plus our vibrant community – register for the Microsoft Business Applications Summit today

We’re bringing together an incredible community of power users, analysts, solution architects, developers, and more – and you’ll have plenty of opportunities to connect and collaborate. Browse the session catalog and start planning your best conference. We hope you’ll join us for 2+ days of total immersion to drive better data, stronger solutions, and bigger transformation.

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Building the inclusive workplace we imagine, together

Today marks Global Accessibility Awareness Day, one of the days we get to celebrate the progress our customers and partners have made to make their workplaces more inclusive, and then look ahead to what more we can do as a community to empower everyone in the workplace.

We celebrate because our customers are empowering their employees both with the accessible technology built into Microsoft 365, and with the inclusive cultural practices that make people love coming to work. We are comparing notes and learning from them as we also build that same inclusive culture at Microsoft.

Here in the U.K., we recently celebrated a milestone—a point on our journey—with recognition from the U.K. Government as a Disability Confident Leader. This status is awarded to organizations that commit to diversity and inclusion and encourage suppliers and vendors to do the same. Our team has worked tirelessly to put processes in place that can both create and sustain a diverse and inclusive culture; attracting and recruiting people with disabilities via our global Inclusive Hiring Program; training managers to understand the needs of those with visible and non-visible disabilities; assessing people for roles more flexibly so those with disabilities have the best opportunity to show their skills; adjusting workplaces to include sign language interpreters, and ensuring all staff have access to disability equality awareness training.

Looking ahead

We also look ahead to our big vision—an accessible and inclusive workplace for everyone—and what more we can do as a company and as a community to make it a reality. Today we’re excited to announce that live captions and subtitles in PowerPoint are rolling out now, and will soon be generally available to Microsoft 365 and Office 365 subscribers worldwide for Windows, Mac, and the web. We also look forward to the coming release of other new inclusive technologies built into Microsoft 365, like live captions and subtitles in Teams Meetings.

Present inclusively with live captions and subtitles in PowerPoint—We know how powerful a great presentation can be—whether it inspires us or aligns us to a common goal. Now, with support for 12 spoken languages and 60+ on-screen captions or subtitle languages, people who are deaf or hard of hearing can be included in these important team building moments. Additionally, with an increasingly global and remote set of collaborators, those who speak a different language from the presenter, or are listening in from a loud environment, can also more easily be included.

Transform the meeting experience for people with disabilities—We also know the critical role meetings play in how we work, and recently announced that live captions and subtitles will also be available in Teams Meetings. These capabilities are coming soon as a preview in English and complement the captioning and transcription features already generally available for recorded Teams meetings and live events in Stream, Teams, and Yammer. Whether in a 1-1 with your manager, or a company-wide all hands, everyone should feel included when the team gets together to meet, including people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

We constantly release new features and improvements to make our products not just compliant with the latest standards, but empowering for all users, both with and without disability. We encourage you to read all about these features in the Microsoft Accessibility Features Sway.

Building the inclusive workplace together

Many of our customers are committed to making this vision of an inclusive workplace a reality and are partnering with us to make it happen. Last month the Federal Government of Canada chose Microsoft as a partner in their effort to create a more modern and accessible Public Service. The Honourable Carla Qualtrough, Minister of Public Services and Procurement and Accessibility, said, “Equipping our public servants with accessible, reliable, and innovative technologies will unleash the potential of our world-class public service and result in better service delivery for all Canadians.” Here at Microsoft we agree—only when we represent the diversity we see in the world internally can we build the most innovative technology and serve our customers as they ought to be served.

We also see Rogers Communications, a leading Canadian communications and media company, shares our vision of a more inclusive workplace. Rogers is doing everything from transforming their physical workplace to be more collaborative and inclusive, to using the accessible technologies built into the Microsoft 365 applications their employees can use every day. Best of all, we’re helping and learning from each other along the way—our teams work regularly with Rogers to understand how our technology can better support their commitment to building an inclusive workplace, and Rogers’ Persons with Disability Diversity group works with us to learn how we embed Inclusive Design principles into our products and our culture. Read the full blog, published today, to learn more about how Rogers is building an accessible and inclusive culture to benefit employees, customers, and the broader community.

Join us!

We have so much more to do—as an organization, an employer, a leader, and a follower—in this journey towards an accessible and inclusive workplace, and we hope you’ll join us. Visit the Microsoft Accessibility site to learn more about our approach. Share your learnings with #LearningTogether and #GAAD and continue the conversation with @MSFTEnable on Twitter.