AI Takes Center Stage in Microsoft Ignite Keynote
"Digital perseverance" was the theme of day one's wide-ranging Microsoft Ignite 2022 keynote on Wednesday.
"Suffice to say, we're living in uncertain times. [But] technology is the pathway forward," said Microsoft Executive Vice President Judson Althoff at the start of the Day 1 keynote, which featured pre-taped presentations as well as executive talks in front of a live audience in the Seattle Convention Center. Althoff, the emcee of the keynote, was among the latter.
The main thrust of the keynote was what Althoff dubbed "digital perseverance," the idea that technology -- specifically, cloud, intelligence and collaboration technologies from Microsoft -- will be as critical to supporting the highly digitized, hybrid work era as it was to keeping businesses afloat during the pandemic.
To that end, Microsoft announced a flurry of solutions on Wednesday, all with the goal of helping businesses navigate emerging challenges, from the macro (like using AI to prepare for and react to the effects of global supply chain delays) to the micro (like using the metaverse to keep workers engaged in hybrid and remote environments). Comprehensive round-ups of Wednesday's product announcements are available at the following articles:
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, appearing in a pre-taped presentation, elaborated on the digital perseverance angle by spotlighting specific announcements. For instance, he touted Microsoft's new support for the AI- and machine learning-based DALL-E graphics technology pioneered by OpenAI as a new way to help businesses do more with less: "When it comes to doing more with less, AI is the ultimate amplifier," Nadella said during his presentation.
With OpenAI co-founder/CEO Sam Altman appearing beside him, Nadella announced DALL-E's integration with the Bing search engine, Dynamics 365 and other Microsoft solutions. DALL-E is also the technology behind a new product announced at Ignite, Microsoft Designer, positioned as a direct competitor to the popular Canva software.
Microsoft is also developing more solutions around AI-assisted coding, he indicated. Citing research from Gartner, Nadella noted that low-code apps now account for 70 percent of all new enterprise applications. The integration of AI into Microsoft's low-code solution, PowerApps, has made it easier than ever for non-developers to build apps on top of Microsoft Teams, Nadella suggested.
But the most notable Teams announcement at Ignite is still in private preview. Buildling on its existing Mesh for Microsoft Teams technology, Microsoft is now taking metaverse-based avatars for Teams on a test drive. As a Microsoft blog explains: "With Mesh avatars, employees will be able to connect with presence in Microsoft Teams meetings without turning their camera on. They can represent themselves the way they want to show up by choosing the avatar fits their specific meeting -- from casual, professional, or day-to-day."
The "metaverse-fication" of Teams falls under what Althoff called "the commercial metaverse" (as opposed to the consumer or industrial metaverse). However, the commercial metaverse is "much more than 3-D Teams," he said. It "will redefine how we collaborate as a society."
The Mesh avatars for Teams announcement comes one day after Microsoft said it was partnering with Facebook parent company Meta to integrate its various Mesh- and metaverse-related technologies with Meta's virtual reality headsets.
Odds and Ends
Outside of all the AI and metaverse discussion, other notable moments from the Day 1 keynote include:
- The debut of Microsoft Places, which Nadella intoned will "help transform your space into a place." Generally available in 2023, Microsoft Places is a set of solutions to smooth over the thorny aspects of today's hybrid offices. It will, for example, provide scheduling solutions for offices that rely on hot-desking, and alerting solutions to help offices save on energy costs depending on how many people are in-person on any given day.
- The debut of Edge Workspaces, which will let users of the Edge browser share their tabs with collaborators.
- Yet more Microsoft Defender products, including a new one for DevOps.
- Microsoft Corporate Vice President Alysa Taylor's assertion -- which gets more obvious every year -- that businesses are more willing to partner with corporations whose values match their own. She made this point while reminding the audience of the recent availability of the Microsoft Cloud for Sustainability.
- Nadella's statement that Microsoft is announcing over 100 new updates to Azure during Ignite.