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World Childhood Foundation marks 20 years with focus on AI and child safety online

World Childhood Foundation, launched in 1999 by Queen Silvia of Sweden, recently marked 20 years of child protection with a roundtable on leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) to assist in tackling child sexual exploitation and abuse online.

The day-long event, held last month at the Royal Palace in Stockholm, brought together 60 AI experts, representatives from technology companies, child safety advocates, academics and others to explore new ways to combat the proliferation of child sexual exploitation and abuse imagery (CSEAI) online.

“How can we use AI as a catalyst for child safety online,” asked King Carl XVI Gustaf, who, along with Queen Silvia and other members of Sweden’s royal family, presided over the day’s discussions. “New approaches are needed, so we are bringing together some of the sharpest minds in AI and child protection to share knowledge and experiences.”

The event consisted of a series of presentations, panels and small-group discussions about raising awareness among the broader global population about the “epidemic” that is child sexual exploitation and abuse, as well as the misuse of technology to share illegal imagery and enable on-demand abuse of children tens of thousands of miles away. Experts shared experiences, ideas and data, including that reports of child sexual abuse videos to the U.S. National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) had risen 541% in 2018 compared to the prior year. Moreover, children of all ages and backgrounds are susceptible to sexual exploitation with more than 56% of the children in Interpol’s database identified as prepubescent. “Nothing surprises us anymore,” said one law enforcement official.

More, faster needed from all stakeholders

The roundtable concluded with a series of observations and recommendations from a variety of sectors, including law and public policy, technology, and victim advocacy, including that:

  • Governments need to take a more active role in addressing the issue. Indeed, no country or society is immune from child sexual abuse and the vile content that makes its way online. Experts acknowledged the work of some standouts governments like the U.K., Australia and others, but called for more globalization and harmonization
  • Children need to be acknowledged as rights-holders, including their right to privacy, and not just as “objects in need of protection”
  • Speed will continue to present a challenge with technological advancements moving at internet speed; academic research occupying a distant second position; and policy, law and regulation lagging significantly behind
  • Civil society needs to do more and, in particular, victims’ rights groups and other organizations must inject a sense of urgency into the dialogue, and
  • Hope must be offered by believing in the brilliance and power of the human and the machine working together to combat such deep-rooted societal ills

I had the privilege of attending and presenting details on the progress of the development of a new method to detect potential instances of child online grooming for sexual purposes. The technique is the result of a cross-industry hackathon that Microsoft hosted in November 2018. Engineers from Microsoft and three other companies continued to develop the process for 12 months following the hackathon, and we intend to make it freely available in 2020 to enable others to examine historical chat conversations for potential indicia of grooming. (Grooming for sexual purposes takes place when someone befriends a child with the intent of gaining the child’s trust for sexual abuse, sexual exploitation or trafficking.) For more about the technique being developed, see this post.

Queen Silvia builds on Vatican remarks

The week before the Stockholm roundtable, a number of attendees also participated in a conference in Rome, Promoting Digital Child Dignity: From Concept to Action. This event was sponsored by the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, the Child Dignity Alliance and the government of the United Arab Emirates.

Queen Silvia was a featured speaker at the Rome conference, noting that when she founded World Childhood Foundation, she hoped she could use her voice to highlight the global problem of child sexual exploitation and abuse. She imagined that the foundation would soon close because it would no longer be needed, as the global scourge that is child sexual abuse would have been eliminated. “To speak about the unspeakable, and to give children back their right to a childhood,” she said. “(Yet,) 20 years later, here we are, with an ever-increasing number of children at risk of abuse and exploitation online.”

Along with several speakers that followed her in Rome, the queen called on all stakeholders to come together and do more: policymakers, technology companies, civil society and faith-based groups. “For the child who has suffered abuse; for the child who is at risk; for the child who carries guilt and shame – for this child, we have to speak with one voice and to act collectively.” (The Queen’s Rome remarks were distributed to participants of the Stockholm roundtable.)

A third landmark event on combating CSEAI will be held later this month in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The African Union, the WePROTECT Global Alliance and the U.K. Government will sponsor the Global Summit to Tackle Online Child Sexual Exploitation on December 11 and 12.

Microsoft and the challenge of Online Child Sexual Exploitation  

This increased attention from several corners of the globe and from new and different stakeholder groups is both needed and encouraging. Additional strides will follow only when we embrace a whole-of-society approach and all stakeholders take part in this important fight.

Microsoft has been combating the spread of CSEAI online for nearly two decades. We first became aware of the magnitude of these online horrors in 2003 when a lead detective from the Toronto Police Department sent an email to our then CEO Bill Gates, asking for help using technology to track down purveyors of CSEAI and for assistance with the detective’s goal of rescuing child victims. Microsoft responded with a $1 million investment and the creation of a technology still in use today by some law enforcement agencies to share investigative information.

Our commitment to create technology to help fight CSEAI online continued with the invention of PhotoDNA, PhotoDNA Cloud Service and PhotoDNA for Video. Progress has been made over the last 20 years, but more needs to be done, including raising awareness, educating young people and the wider public, reporting illegal content to technology companies and hotlines, and continuing to create technologies and techniques to assist in online detection and reporting.

Learn more

To learn more about the World Childhood Foundation, visit the organization’s website. To learn what Microsoft is doing to tackle child sexual exploitation and abuse online, see this link, and to learn more about digital safety generally, go to www.microsoft.com/saferonline, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

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Microsoft Ireland teacher on the impact of role models: ‘I firmly believe you can’t be what you can’t see’

“Bluebell is in a disadvantaged area, and when I have kids come in from similar areas, I always tell them where I’m from. And they’re like, ‘No, you’re not!’” she says. “Because to them, seeing someone from Bluebell working at Microsoft is a big deal. And I just hope that they think, ‘If she works here, I can work here.’”

After a recent class, a student thanked Amanda and told her that she’d only seen men code before. The chance to code alongside other girls was something she’d never imagined.

“That was a ‘whoa’ moment for me.” Amanda pauses and then sighs with disappointment. “Of course, I know the statistics about women in the tech industry. But to actually have a student say that made the reality and the impact so much more real.”

In the next year, Amanda hopes to reach more students through DreamSpace by traveling to rural areas, training more teachers, and even creating mini-DreamSpace environments at schools—colorful and comfortable corners within classrooms where students can learn together.A woman laughs while two younger women look at a computer screen and point. They are having fun learning.

“I firmly believe you can’t be what you can’t see,” Amanda says.

“I want to show students that it doesn’t matter where you live. It’s doesn’t matter what you’ve done. It doesn’t matter what your parents do. You can do this; it’s possible for you.”

*****

Back at Colaiste Pobail Setanta, Amanda hugs her former coworkers good-bye and heads out of her old science lab. As her hand swipes an empty student desk, she thinks lovingly about the past. She loves what she does now—growing her own skills in new ways—but she’ll always remember where she came from.

Making her way to the exit, Amanda walks past the front office receptionist—a new employee who didn’t work there when Amanda was a teacher at the school.

“Hello, I’m Amanda. I used to teach here.”

“Hmm. What do you do now?” the receptionist asks, assuming Amanda has left the vocation as well as the school.

“Oh, I still teach,” she says, her face lighting up with pride. “But now, I’m a teacher at Microsoft.”

*****

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Game of Drones competition aims to advance autonomous systems

Image from Game of Drones simulation

Drone racing has transformed from a niche activity sparked by enthusiastic hobbyists to an internationally televised sport. In parallel, computer vision and machine learning are making rapid progress, along with advances in agile trajectory planning, control, and state estimation for quadcopters. These advances enable increased autonomy and reliability for drones. More recently, the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) research community has begun to tackle the drone-racing problem. This has given rise to competitions, with the goal of beating human performance in drone racing.

At the thirty-third Conference on Neural Information Processing Systems (NeurIPS 2019), the AirSim research team is working together with Stanford University and University of Zurich to further democratize drone-racing research by hosting a simulation-based competition, Game of Drones. We are hosting the competition on Microsoft AirSim, our Unreal Engine-based simulator for multirotors. The competition focuses on trajectory planning and control, computer vision, and opponent drone avoidance. This is achieved via three tiers:

  • Tier 1 Planning only: The participant’s drone races tête-à-tête with a Microsoft Research opponent racer. The goal is to go through all gates in the minimum possible time, without hitting the opponent drone. Ground truth for gate poses, the opponent drone pose, and the participant drone are provided. These are accessible via our application-programming interfaces (APIs). The opponent racer follows a minimum jerk trajectory, which goes through randomized waypoints selected in each gate’s cross section.
  • Tier 2 Perception only: This is a time trial format where the participants are provided with noisy gate poses. There’s no opponent drone. The next gate will not always be in view, but the noisy pose returned by our API will steer the drone roughly in the right direction, after which vision-based control would be necessary.
  • Tier 3 – Perception and Planning: This combines Tier 1 and 2. Given the ground truth state estimate for participant drone and noisy estimate for gates, the goal is to race against the opponent racer without colliding with it.

The animation on the left below shows the ground truth gate poses (Tier 1), while the animation on the right shows the noisy gate poses (Tier 2 and Tier 3). In each animation, the drone is tracking a minimum jerk trajectory using one of our competition APIs.

Image shows the ground truth gate poses

The following animation shows a segment of one of our racing tracks with two drones racing against each other. Here “drone_2” (pink spline) is the opponent racer going through randomized waypoints in each gate cross section, while “drone_1” (yellow spline) is a representative competitor going through the gate centers.

This animation shows a segment of one of our racing tracks with two drones racing against each other

The competition is being run in two stages—an initial qualification round and a final round. A set of training binaries with configurable racetracks was made available to the participants initially, for prototyping and verification of algorithms on arbitrary racetracks. In the qualification stage (Oct 15th to Nov 21st), teams were asked to submit their entries for a subset or all of the three competition tiers.  117 teams registered for the competition worldwide, with 16 unique entries that have shown up on the qualification leaderboard.

We are now running the final round of the competition and the corresponding leaderboard is available here. All of the information for the competition is available at our GitHub repository, along with the training, qualification, and final race environments.

Engineering-wise, we introduced some new APIs in AirSim specifically for the competition, and we’re continually adding more features as we get feedback. We highlight the main components below:

In the long term, we intend to keep the competition open, and we will be adding more racing environments after NeurIPS 2019. While the first iteration brought an array of new features to AirSim, there are still many essential ingredients for trustable autonomy in real-world scenarios and effective simulation-to-reality transfer of learned policies. These include reliable state estimation; camera sensor models and motion blur; robustness to environmental conditions like weather, brightness, and diversity in texture and shape of the drone racing gates; and robustness against dynamics of the quadcopter. Over the next iterations, we aim to extend the competition to focus on these components of autonomy as well.

For more of the exciting work Microsoft is doing with AirSim, see our blog post on Ignite 2019.

Acknowledgements: This work would not have been possible without the substantial team effort behind the scenes by all members of the organizing team—Ratnesh Madaan, Nicholas Gyde, Keiko Nagami, Matthew Brown, Sai Vemprala, Tim Taubner, Eric Cristofalo, Paul Stubbs, Jim Piavis, Guada Casuso, Mac Schwager, Davide Scaramuzza, and Ashish Kapoor.

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New tech benefits for nonprofits announced on International Volunteer Day

In our nearly 40 years of supporting philanthropic partnerships with nonprofits, and with the 2017 launch of the Tech for Social Impact team, Microsoft has worked closely with nonprofits and partners to develop new products and resources tailored to nonprofits and their very specific technology needs.

We’re constantly engaged with nonprofits to listen and learn about ways to further meet the needs of nonprofits, both big and small. Through conversations with our network, we realized organizations – especially those who rely on and deploy more than one billion volunteers around the world – need solutions that equip their volunteers with the same quality technology solutions that their full-time employees rely on.

In the spirit of International Volunteer Day, a global observance by the United Nations General Assembly for nearly 35 years to celebrate local, national and international volunteerism, we recognize the importance of nonprofit volunteers. Volunteers are the heartbeat of so many organizations. They are in the field, working with beneficiaries, coordinating and executing programs, engaging donors, and reporting impact. That’s why we must go further and equip more nonprofit volunteers with best-in-class productivity tools to promote seamless collaboration and access to content in the field, built on a platform of security features that ensure sensitive constituent data is securely transferred and responsibly managed.

As it stands today, while many nonprofits have digitally transformed thanks to solutions like Azure and Microsoft 365, their volunteers still use unmanaged solutions, which limits the ability of the nonprofit to manage information, protect sensitive data, and make full use of integrated collaboration tools that can increase productivity.

We want to change that.

Today, we’re announcing our first step by providing enterprise-sized customers with a new Volunteer Use Benefit. Starting January 1, 2020, for each licensed Microsoft 365 E3 or E5 seat, nonprofit customers with Enterprise Agreements will receive 10 additional Office 365 F1 seats for their volunteers to utilize. That means that an organization that has licensed 250 Microsoft 365 E3/E5 seats for their fulltime staff will have access to 2,500 Office 365 F1 licenses for volunteers to use at no additional charge. Office 365 F1 brings together the best of Microsoft’s cloud productivity experience including familiar applications for email, calendars, team collaboration, file storage and sharing. This Volunteer Use Benefit will allow organizations to equip millions of volunteers with the tools they need to have an even greater impact on the missions they serve.

This offer will be made available via our Cloud Solution Provider Channel in Spring 2020.

 “Through our recent deployment of Microsoft 365, we’re using tools like SharePoint, Teams and Exchange to drive increased collaboration, cost efficiencies, and security across our organization. In turn, we can devote more resources to driving mission impact.”, said Craig Tucker National Chief Information Officer of Salvation Army Australia. “Central to the success of our organization are the 8,500 frontline workers and volunteers who execute our mission in the field, engage beneficiaries, and manage important information. If we are able to equip our volunteers with the same high quality, secure and collaborative tech solutions that we rely on across Salvation Army it would allow us to fully realize the benefits of digital transformation for organizational success.”

Developing technology solutions for nonprofits strikes at the heart of Microsoft’s mission to empower every person and organization on the planet to achieve more. In the last year, we’ve rolled out solutions like the Dynamics 365 Nonprofit Accelerator, which is helping larger nonprofits drive greater insights and operational efficiencies, as well as a Microsoft 365 Business for Nonprofits offer that arms smaller nonprofits with collaboration tools with advanced security and device management capabilities. Not only are we creating solutions, but we’re also supporting nonprofits with digital literacy to improve adoption and usage through digital skills trainings with resources specific to the sector’s unique challenges and needs. With this announcement, we’re excited to extend support to nonprofits’ volunteers. 

In 2020, Microsoft will work with partners to support the roll out of the implementation of the Volunteer Use Benefit which will make all nonprofits more secure and effective, build trust with their funders and beneficiaries, and continue their digital transformation journey. To learn more and be the first to hear when the Volunteer Use Benefit is live, sign up here.

We’re truly grateful and inspired by volunteers across the globe who give their time and effort to help those in need. Their commitment to the world’s most important causes does not go unnoticed.

Published By

Justin Spelhaug

Justin Spelhaug

Global Head – Tech for Social Impact, Microsoft Philanthropies

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Cracking the code to mobile productivity: Our global journey to rethink, redesign and align our mobile experiences

In Seattle, an engineer thumbs through a Mumbai-based coworker’s edits while walking between meetings. In rural China, an artisan uses their phone to sell their creations. In Johannesburg, a lawyer texts back a client before catching the bus. These real-life snapshots show the diverse and evolving workflows of today’s 5 billion mobile users worldwide.

In many ways, mobile productivity is still a code waiting to be cracked. Beyond mobile-first and mobile-only markets where necessity mandates it, we can rarely accomplish as much on a phone as we do on our PCs. However, we believe in empowering everyone to be fully productive on any device. Our teams’ focus on emerging markets, inclusive design, and accessibility has broadened our aperture as we create more tailored, intelligent experiences across Microsoft 365.

Today, we’re excited to unveil redesigns to our flagship mobile apps! We’ve redesigned Outlook, OneDrive, Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. You can also expect new versions of Teams, Yammer, and Planner soon. These redesigns contribute to broader company efforts to take mobile productivity to the next level. At Microsoft Ignite, we publicly previewed our beta Office app and Fluid Framework. Office combines multiple Microsoft 365 mobile experiences in one app, and Fluid is a new technology that breaks broad experiences into dynamic, real-time components ideal for mobile scenarios.

Beyond the public eye, we’re also conducting global research, designing a mobile-born version of Fluent, exploring scenarios for dual-screen experiences, and creating mobile UI toolkits for external developers to build this mobile future alongside us.

Read on for a behind-the-scenes look at our research, design process, and future vision for Microsoft 365 mobile experiences.

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Soundscape app uses Bing Maps to deliver the world in 3D sound to people who are blind or have low vision

Imagine being able to navigate through your neighborhood using your hearing alone. Microsoft Soundscape is an application built by the Enable Group in Microsoft Research that helps the blind and low vision explore the world around them using a map delivered in 3D sound. Armed with a stereo headset and the Soundscape app, anyone with a visual impairment can experience a mobile voice-based map that helps empower by providing the independence to traverse your environment and the ability to choose how to get from place to another.

With the help of Bing Maps Local Search and Bing Maps Location Recognition APIs, Soundscape enables you to hear where landmarks are around you to orient yourself, build a richer awareness of your surroundings, and have the confidence to discover what’s around the next corner.

Read the full story at https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/maps/customers/microsoft-soundscape.

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Microsoft Research Open Data Project: Evolving our standards for data access and reproducible research

Datasets compilation for Open Data

Last summer we announced Microsoft Research Open Data—an Azure-based repository-as-a-service for sharing datasets—to encourage the reproducibility of research and make research data assets readily available in the cloud. Among other things, the project started a conversation between the community and Microsoft’s legal team about dataset licensing. Inspired by these conversations, our legal team developed a set of brand new data use agreements and released them for public comment on Github earlier this year.

Today we’re excited to announce that Microsoft Research Open Data will be adopting these data use agreements for several datasets that we offer.

Diving a bit deeper on the new data use agreements

The Open Use of Data Agreement (O-UDA) is intended for use by an individual or organization that is able to distribute data for unrestricted uses, and for which there is no privacy or confidentiality concern. It is not appropriate for datasets that include any data that might include materials subject to privacy laws (such as the GDPR or HIPAA) or other unlicensed third-party materials. The O-UDA meets the open definition: it does not impose any restriction with respect to the use or modification of data other than ensuring that attribution and limitation of liability information is passed downstream. In the research context, this implies that users of the data need to cite the corresponding publication with which the data is associated. This aids in findability and reusability of data, an important tenet in the FAIR guiding principles for scientific data management and stewardship.

We also recognize that in certain cases, datasets useful for AI and research analysis may not be able to be fully “open” under the O-UDA. For example, they may contain third-party copyrighted materials, such as text snippets or images, from publicly available sources. The law permits their use for research, so following the principle that research data should be “as open as possible, as closed as necessary,” we developed the Computational Use of Data Agreement (C-UDA) to make data available for research while respecting other interests. We will prefer the O-UDA where possible, but we see the C-UDA as a useful tool for ensuring that researchers continue to have access to important and relevant datasets.

Datasets that reflect the goals of our project

The following examples reference datasets that have adopted the Open Use of Data Agreement (O-UDA).

Location data for geo-privacy research

Microsoft researcher John Krumm and collaborators collected GPS data from 21 people who carried a GPS receiver in the Seattle area. Users who provided their data agreed to it being shared as long as certain geographic regions were deleted. This work covers key research on privacy preservation of GPS data as evidenced in the corresponding paper, “Exploring End User Preferences for Location Obfuscation, Location-Based Services, and the Value of Location,” which was accepted at the Twelfth ACM International Conference on Ubiquitous Computing (UbiComp 2010). The paper has been cited 147 times, including for research that builds upon this work to further the field of preservation of geo-privacy for location-based services providers.

Hand gestures data for computer vision

Another example dataset is that of labeled hand images and video clips collected by researchers Eyal Krupka, Kfir Karmon, and others. The research addresses an important computer vision and machine learning problem that deals with developing a hand-gesture-based interface language. The data was recorded using depth cameras and has labels that cover joints and fingertips. The two datasets included are FingersData, which contains 3,500 labeled depth frames of various hand poses, and GestureClips, which contains 140 gesture clips (100 of these contain labeled hand gestures and 40 contain non-gesture activity). The research associated with this dataset is available in the paper “Toward Realistic Hands Gesture Interface: Keeping it Simple for Developers and Machines,” which was published in Proceedings of the 2017 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems.

Question-Answer data for machine reading comprehension

Finally, the FigureQA dataset generated by researchers Samira Ebrahimi Kahou, Adam Atkinson, Adam Trischler, Yoshua Bengio and collaborators, introduces a visual reasoning task for research that is specific to graphical plots and figures. The dataset has 180,000 figures with 1.3 million question-answer pairs in the training set. More details about the dataset are available in the paper “FigureQA: An Annotated Figure Dataset for Visual Reasoning” and corresponding Microsoft Research Blog post. The dataset is pivotal to developing more powerful visual question answering and reasoning models, which potentially improve accuracy of AI systems that are involved in decision making based on charts and graphs.

The data agreements are a part of our larger goals

Microsoft Research Open Data project was conceived from the start to reflect Microsoft Research’s commitment to fostering open science and research and to achieve this without compromising the ethics of collecting and sharing data. Our goal is to make it easier for researchers to maintain provenance of data while having the ability to reference and build upon it.

The addition of the new data agreements to Microsoft Research Open Data’s feature set is an exciting step in furthering our mission.

Acknowledgements: This work would not have been possible without the substantial team effort by — Dave Green, Justin Colannino, Gretchen Deo, Sarah Kim, Emily McReynolds, Mario Madden, Emily Schlesinger, Elaine Peterson, Leila Stevenson, Dave Baskin, and Sergio Loscialo.

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Can AI help save penguins? How Gramener is building tools to protect species from extinction

Working on Microsoft Azure platform, Mohanty and his colleagues used a Convolutional Neural Network model to come up with a solution that can identify and count penguins with a high degree of accuracy. The model can potentially help researchers speed up their studies around the status of penguin populations.

The team is now working on the classification, identification and counting of other species using similar deep learning techniques.

Building AI to save the planet

A long-time Microsoft partner headquartered in Hyderabad in India, Gramener is not new to leveraging AI for social good using Microsoft Azure. It was one of the earliest partners for Microsoft’s AI for Earth program announced in 2017.

“I believe that AI can help make the world a better place by accelerating biodiversity conservation and help solve the biggest environmental challenges we face today. When we came to know about Microsoft’s AI for Earth program over two years ago, we reached out to Microsoft as we wanted to find ways to partner and help with our expertise,” says Kesari.

While the program was still in its infancy, the teams from Gramener and Microsoft worked jointly to come up with quick projects to showcase what’s possible with AI and inspire those out there in the field. They started with a proof of concept for identifying flora and fauna species in a photograph.

“We worked more like an experimentation arm working with the team led by Lucas Joppa (Microsoft’s Chief Environmental Officer, and founder of AI for Earth). We built a model, using data available from iNaturalist, that could classify thousands of different species with 80 percent accuracy,” Kesari reveals.

Another proof of concept revolved around camera traps that are used for biodiversity studies in forests. The camera traps take multiple images whenever they detect motion, which leads to a large number of photos that had to be scanned manually.

Soumya Ranjan Mohanty, Lead Data Scientist, Gramener
Soumya Ranjan Mohanty, Lead Data Scientist, Gramener

“Most camera trap photos are blank as they don’t have any animal in the frame. Even in the frames that do, often the animal is too close to be identified or the photo is blurry,” says Mohanty, who also leads the AI for Earth partnership from Gramener.

The team came up with a two-step solution that first weeds out unusable images and then uses a deep learning model to classify images that have an animal in them. This solution too was converted by the Microsoft team into what is now the Camera Trap API that AI for Earth grantees or anyone can freely use.

“AI is critical to conservation because we simply don’t have time to wait for humans to annotate millions of images before we can answer wildlife population questions. For the same reason, we need to rapidly prototype AI applications for conservation, and it’s been fantastic to have Gramener on board as our ‘advanced development team’,” says Dan Morris, principal scientist and program director for Microsoft’s AI for Earth program.

Anticipating the needs of grantees, Gramener and Microsoft have also worked on creating other APIs, like the Land Cover Mapping API that leverages machine learning to provide high-resolution land cover information. These APIs are now part of the public technical resources available for AI for Earth grantees or anyone to use, to accelerate their projects without having to build the base model themselves.

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KPMG’s digital shift fuels AI-empowered audits and more, reducing risk across every industry

Envision this: It’s another frenetic morning in the stock market as an army of traders at one company chat with their clients by phone – counseling and cautioning, buying and selling.

The outcomes of those calls and transactions carry no guarantees, of course. There will be some winners, some losers. But before the closing bell rings, the traders’ company – an advisory client of KPMG – is sure of one outcome: the engagements were analyzed and potential risks surfaced.

How can the company be so certain? It deployed KPMG’s trader-risk-analytics platform, a solution that applies Azure Cognitive Services to help reduce risk and meet rising regulatory requirements within the financial services industry.

The platform is just one example of a solution jointly developed in the KPMG and Microsoft Digital Solution Hub, and a testament to KPMG’s drive to digitize its customer offerings across advisory, tax and audit by implementing Microsoft’s intelligent cloud.

En employee walks through a hallway at KPMG.
An employee at KPMG.

To accelerate KPMG’s move to the cloud, KPMG and Microsoft have signed a five-year agreement that will allow KPMG and its clients to benefit from Microsoft innovations, including a strong focus on AI, risk and cyber security.

As one of the “Big Four” organizations, KPMG’s services and solutions encompass all industries – from government to banking to health care. That wide-ranging impact means KPMG also provides a potent business case for the potential of Microsoft technology to enhance and revitalize customers’ businesses across every sector, says Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella.

“Together with KPMG, we’re accelerating digital transformation across industries by bringing the latest advances in cloud, AI and security to highly regulated workloads in audit, tax and advisory,” Nadella says.

To grasp the scope and reach of KPMG’s digital evolution, take a closer look at one of the platforms it has launched for a core business line – audit. Better yet, just meet KPMG Clara.

KPMG is bolstering audit quality by infusing the process with data analytics, AI and Azure Cognitive Services, allowing audit professionals to use company data to bring more relevance to their audit findings and continue to meet increasing regulatory requirements and standards. KPMG uses Azure Cognitive Services to provide more continuous, holistic and deeper insights and value on audit-relevant data.

The company’s smart audit platform, KPMG Clara, is automated, agile, intelligent and scalable – ushering in what KPMG calls a new era for the audit. KPMG is deploying KPMG Clara globally, allowing clients access to real-time information arising from the audit process and communication with the audit team.

A KPMG building is shown from outside with grass in the foreground.
A KPMG building.

In addition, KPMG Clara will integrate with Microsoft Teams, providing a platform for audit professionals to work together on a project, centrally managing and securely sharing audit files, tracking audit-related activities and communicating using chat, voice and video meetings. This will simplify the auditors’ workflow, enabling them to stay in sync throughout the entire process and drive continuous communication with the client.

“Technology is disrupting organizations across the globe,” says Bill Thomas, global chairman of KPMG International. “Clients are turning to us like never before to help them implement, manage and optimize the digital transformation of their organizations.”

In fact, 65% of CEOs believe that AI will create more jobs than it eliminates, according to a survey of 1,300 CEOs conducted by KPMG for its 2019 “Global CEO Outlook” report.

The survey also found that 50% of CEOs expect to see significant a return on their AI investments in three to five years, while 100% have piloted or implemented AI to automate processes.

Through its tech expansion, KPMG’s clients will benefit from “consistent global service delivery, greater speed of deployment and industry-leading security standards to safeguard their data,” the company says.

At the same time, KPMG professionals will gain access to an arsenal of cloud-based tools to build business solutions and managed services that are embedded with AI and machine learning capabilities.

And with robotic process automation (RPA), they can utilize AI-infused software that completes the types of high-volume, repeatable tasks that once drained hours from their work weeks.

Two people inside a KPMG building enter a stairwell.
Two people entering a KPMG member firm.

“Technology and data-driven business models are disrupting the business landscape,” says KPMG global chairman Thomas. “Our multi-year investment in digital leadership will help us remain at the forefront of this shift and further strengthen our position as the digital transformation partner of choice for our clients.”

KPMG also is modernizing its workplace for 207,000 employees across 153 member firms, using the Microsoft 365 suite of cloud-based collaboration and productivity tools, including Microsoft Teams.

KPMG deployed Dynamics 365 for more than 30,000 of their professionals across 17 member firms. This equips them with modern customer-relationship applications to quickly and efficiently manage both client requests and client demand.

Says Nadella: “KPMG’s deep industry and process expertise, combined with the power of our trusted cloud – spanning Azure, Dynamics 365 and Microsoft 365 – will bring the best of both organizations together to help customers around the world become more agile in an increasingly complex business environment.”

Top photo: Two people sitting in a KPMG lobby. (All photos courtesy of KPMG)

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KPMG expects to invest US$5 billion in digital strategy and expand Microsoft alliance to accelerate professional services transformation

New innovations built on Microsoft cloud and AI technologies help clients achieve greater accuracy and decision-making capabilities, increased productivity, and cost efficiencies.

AMSTELVEEN, Netherlands and REDMOND, Wash. — Dec. 5, 2019 — KPMG and Microsoft Corp. are strengthening their global relationship through a five-year agreement to accelerate digital transformation for KPMG member firms and mutual clients. As part of its announcement to significantly invest in technology, people and innovation,, KPMG is modernizing its workplace using the Microsoft 365 suite of cloud-based collaboration and productivity tools, including Microsoft Teams. KPMG is also utilizing Microsoft Azure and its AI capabilities as the backbone for a new common, global cloud-based platform. The platform will strengthen KPMG’s range of digital offerings with new innovations in cloud-based audit capabilities, tax solutions and risk management. Clients in all sectors, including those in highly regulated industries, benefit from globally consistent and continuous service delivery that enables greater speed of deployment while adhering to industry-leading compliance and security standards.

“Together with KPMG, we’re accelerating digital transformation across industries by bringing the latest advances in cloud, AI and security to highly regulated workloads in tax, audit and advisory,” said Satya Nadella, CEO, Microsoft. “KPMG’s deep industry and process expertise, combined with the power of our trusted cloud — spanning Azure, Dynamics 365 and Microsoft 365 — will bring the best of both organizations together to help customers around the world become more agile in an increasingly complex business environment.”

New business-critical solutions

As organizations expand to new geographies, develop new products and recruit new talent, processes can become increasingly complex and harder to scale. Market forces, such as evolving data protection laws, currency fluctuations and geopolitical tensions, increase the complexity and require a greater responsiveness for systems and tools.

The strong portfolio of KPMG and Microsoft alliance offerings can help address these challenges more quickly by building applications on demand, automating manual processes, and continuously analyzing information to minimize the risk of errors and increase the ability to make smart decisions.

“Our alliance with Microsoft has become a critical component in helping us deliver industry-leading solutions and services to clients. Our significant multiyear investment continues to empower our people to work more efficiently and collaboratively while maximizing the power of a workforce that blends people and technology,” said Bill Thomas, Global Chairman, KPMG International. “By harnessing Microsoft’s intelligent and trusted cloud, we aim to help clients be at the forefront of change and better prepared for a digital-first future.”

Combining industry expertise with advanced technology

Through a jointly funded incubator, KPMG and Microsoft are co-developing a robust portfolio of solutions and managed services in the areas of cloud business transformation, intelligent business applications and smart workplace solutions.

For example, KPMG in the U.S. and Microsoft are working together to bring the power of Azure to the healthcare and life sciences industries. This collaboration is enabling organizations within this highly regulated sector to maximize their clinical, operational and financial performance with an easily scalable solution that helps improve deployment speed, accelerate ROI and increase data-driven insights.

In addition, KPMG in the Netherlands has developed risk management, compliance and internal audit solutions that leverage discovery tools to enable the digitization of risk and compliance processes across domains such as finance, legal and IT. Designed by KPMG and built on Microsoft Azure, the solutions provide seamless and cost-efficient policy and controls automation, putting smart analytics directly in the hands of business and IT operators so they can make timely, corrective actions when deviations occur.

Smart audit platform

KPMG, with the launch of its smart audit platform KPMG Clara in 2017, became the first of the Big Four to take its audit workflow to the cloud. Based on Microsoft Azure, KPMG Clara is an automated, agile, intelligent and scalable platform that allows KPMG professionals to work smarter, bringing powerful data and analytics capabilities into one interface, while allowing clients to interact on a real-time basis with the audit process.

By enriching the audit mandate with AI, KPMG enables its professionals to make decisions based on real-time data. This further reinforces KPMG’s commitment to maintaining and enhancing audit quality and building a future where technology continually enriches the audit through the introduction of new digital advancements.

KPMG Clara will integrate with Microsoft Teams, providing a platform for audit professionals to centrally manage and securely share audit files, track audit-related activities, and communicate using chat, voice and video meetings. This helps simplify the auditors’ workflow, enabling them to stay in sync throughout the entire process and drive continuous communication with the client.

Empowering workforce transformation

Through its common, global cloud platform, KPMG will create a set of cloud-based capabilities ranging from hosting infrastructure based on Microsoft Azure to more than 50 advanced solutions, such as AI, cyber and robotic process automation (RPA). KPMG will further empower its global workforce of over 207,000 employees across 153 countries with Microsoft 365, including Teams, to better meet the needs of clients through increased collaboration, improved productivity and data-driven insights. In addition, more than 30,000 KPMG professionals across 17 member firms have been equipped with Dynamics 365, a suite of powerful customer relationship applications.

To read more about the KPMG and Microsoft alliance, visit the Microsoft Transform blog.

About KPMG International 

KPMG is a global network of professional services firms providing Audit, Tax and Advisory services. We operate in 153 countries and territories and have 207,000 people working in member firms around the world. The independent member firms of the KPMG network are affiliated with KPMG International Cooperative (“KPMG International”), a Swiss entity. Each KPMG firm is a legally distinct and separate entity and describes itself as such.

About Microsoft

Microsoft (Nasdaq “MSFT” @microsoft) enables digital transformation for the era of an intelligent cloud and an intelligent edge. Its mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.

For more information, press only:
Microsoft Media Relations, WE Communications for Microsoft, (425) 638-7777,
rrt@we-worldwide.com
Mark Walters, KPMG International, (646) 943-2115, mgwalters@kpmg.com

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