AI Supercomputer And ML Fairness: Highlights From Microsoft Build 2020

“The role of developers has never been more important, from emergency response and recovery to reimagining the way we live and work.”

-Satya Nadella

Microsoft Build developers conference, a yearly flagship conference was shifted to a free 48-hour digital forum due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Here are a few key announcements from the cloud and machine learning teams:

AI Supercomputer

Microsoft claims that it has built one of the top five supercomputers in the world and it is making its new infrastructure available on Azure so that researchers can train extremely large AI models.

Built in collaboration with OpenAI, the supercomputer was designed specifically to train OpenAI’s models. This marks a major milestone in their partnership that was announced last year to jointly create new supercomputing technologies on Azure.

Microsoft has also developed its own family of large AI models such as the Microsoft Turing models to improve many different language understanding tasks across Bing, Office, Dynamics and other productivity products.

Cloud For Healthcare

Addressing how COVID-19 has disrupted the way we do healthcare around the world, Microsoft announced its first industry-specific cloud offering, Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare, which is now available through a free trial for the next six months. This offer brings together capabilities that can deliver automation and efficiency on high-value workflows, as well as deep data analytics for both structured and unstructured data, that enable customers to turn insight into action. 

“The Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare extends the value of existing Microsoft cloud services and Teams virtual visits, making it faster and easier for care teams.” 

-Tom McGuinness, Microsoft’s corporate VP of worldwide health

Microsoft’s Azure is the first cloud service to offer a generally available Azure FHIR service, which allows healthcare organisations to ingest and persist data in the Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) format.

Microsoft also announced the general availability of the Bookings app in Teams, which enables healthcare providers to schedule, manage, and conduct provider-to-patient virtual visits within Teams.

Machine Learning Tools

“Developers are increasingly asked to build AI systems that are easy to explain and comply with non-discrimination and privacy regulations.”

-Eric Boyd, corporate VP of Microsoft Azure AI.

Microsoft laid great emphasis on promoting responsible machine learning that can help developers understand, protect and control their models throughout the ML lifecycle. Their innovations are released as toolkits with capabilities that can be accessed through Azure Machine Learning and are also available on GitHub.

In addition, Microsoft also released its Fairlearn toolkit, which includes capabilities to assess and improve the fairness of AI systems that will be integrated with Azure.

Azure Machine Learning has built-in controls that enable tracking and automating the entire process of deploying a model. This capability, known as MLOps, provides an audit trail to help organisations meet regulatory and compliance requirements.

For example, the team explained in a blog post, if COVID-19 patient datasets are to be used to build a machine learning model that predicts who is at high risk of serious complications from the novel coronavirus, before the deployment of the model, it is necessary to make sure the developers understand how the model makes decisions in order to explain the process to doctors and patients by assessing fairness and ensuring that the model captures the known elevated risks.

Azure Synapse

Microsoft introduced Azure Synapse Link, a cloud-native implementation of hybrid transactional analytical processing (HTAP), which brings Azure Synapse Analytics and operational database services together in real time with a single click, and even without managing data movement or placing a burden on customers’ operational systems, according to the cloud provider.

Now in public preview, it’s available in Azure Cosmos DB and will be available in Microsoft’s other operational database services, such as Azure SQL, Azure Database for PostgreSQL and Azure Database for MySQL, in future.

The announcements made at the BUILD 2020 conference, indicates the direction in which Microsoft is proceeding. Their innovations lay great emphasis on the ongoing disruption and how to provide solutions to help companies build, rebuild and thrive, including new tools that enable developers to design and deliver artificial intelligence applications in an ethical and responsible way, as well as help them build connected productivity experiences.

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Ram Sagar
I have a master's degree in Robotics and I write about machine learning advancements.

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