Tag Archives: Mission

AI for Earth: Helping save the planet with data science – Asia News Center

Wee Hyong Tok is a data scientist. He has a passion for numbers, a faith in technology – and a mission that might make a superhero think twice.

“I want to save the Earth,” he says matter-of-factly. “That seems like a very bold statement. But, I strongly believe that artificial intelligence (AI) can play an important role in monitoring the health of our planet.”

Singapore-born and educated, Wee Hyong has been a data guy and techie all his working life – first in academia, and later with Microsoft in China and the United States where he helped create ground-breaking products in the cloud.

For more than a year now, he has been leading an elite global research team for AI for Earth – a five-year, US$50 million Microsoft initiative that supports, and partners with, environmental groups and researchers. They are tackling some of the world’s most intractable problems by marshaling the immense power of AI, machine learning (ML), and the cloud.

Wee Hyong Tok, Principal Data Science Manager, AI & Research.

In a recent interview during a quick visit back to Singapore, Wee Hyong summed up the challenge: We live on planet Earth, and yet we know very little about it.

We have limited time to learn how to conserve its resources. Fresh water supplies are being dangerously overexploited. Land is being exhausted and degraded to produce more food for more people in ever-growing cities. Thousands of species are fading fast into extinction as their habitats disappear in a whirl of industrialization and a haze of pollution. The oceans are choking on plastics and the carbon-charged climate is changing. Precious things that are vital to our existence are under threat and, if lost, might never come back.

I strongly believe that AI can play an important role in monitoring the health of our planet.

When we hear such things, most of us tend to shrug helplessly. Such problems just seem too big, too hard, and too scary to fix. But Wee Hyong and his colleagues at AI for Earth and Microsoft Research are convinced that solutions can come in our time – if data, technology, and imagination are put to work.

“I am an optimist,” he says before describing the technical complexities surrounding his team’s quest. “We can learn how to leverage AI to solve some of the sustainability challenges facing humanity today.”

Asia’s elusive and endangered Snow Leopard. Photo: Peter Bolliger.

Boiled down, AI for Earth aims to create sustainable solutions across four areas that are key to the health of the planet and the future of humankind: agriculture, water, biodiversity, and climate change.

Wee Hyong proudly points to some early breakthroughs. The Farm Beats project is pioneering new data-driven agriculture to guide farmers in India and the United States on where and when to plant crops for the greatest yield.

Equally impressive are the strides being made in land cover mapping – traditionally a time-consuming, expensive tool that is essential for environmental management and precision conservation. Recently, the entire United States was mapped by machine-learning algorithms that processed nearly 200 million aerial images in just over 10 minutes. Done the usual way, such a project would have taken many months and cost a fortune. Deployed globally and locally, this new way of mapping could revolutionize how we mitigate the effects of urbanization, pollution, deforestation, and even natural disasters.

Endangered species are also being given new hope. Traditionally, analysts pore over of thousands of images taken from satellites, drones or camera traps in the wild to study the range, populations, and behaviors of animals otherwise rarely seen by humans. It’s laborious work that takes time, skill, and concentration. “Try spotting a herd of zebra on the African savannah from a satellite image,” Wee Hyong says. “it’s not easy.”

High resolution imagery of zebra on the African savannah. Photo: Courtesy of Save The Elephants

Now computers can take on this role thanks to deep learning techniques that enable them to make sense of the thousands of pixels in an image. This is freeing up the expert time of scientists to do and study more. It’s already adding invaluable knowledge about elusive snow leopards in Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia and dwindling elephant populations in Congo in Africa where AI is also being used to in the fight against the twin scourges of poaching and the ivory trade.

Project Premonition uses insects as de facto “field biologists”. The project uses AI to analyze blood that mosquitoes take from animals across an  an ecosystem to glean valuable data. To achieve this, AI for Earth is developing drones that autonomously locate mosquito hotspots, robotic traps to collect specimens, and cloud-scale genomics and machine learning algorithms to identify each animal bitten.

The rise of the intelligent cloud and the ability to deploy machine learning models to the intelligent edge is accelerating and enabling new exciting possibilities to study and save wildlife from the remotest corners of the Earth to suburban backyards.

African bush elephants with Mount Kilmanjaro in the background. Picture: Courtesy of Save the Elephants

It goes beyond just technology, right? They want to tell their kids they are trying to save the Earth.

Pursuing research is worthy in itself, but real value comes when a solution is launched into action in the real world. It is here that Wee Hyong’s motivation shines through: He wants to leave the world in better shape for his two children – and for all children in the world.

The same goes for his team of data scientists and software engineers who left exciting and satisfying roles in commercial product development to join AI for Earth.

“Every single person who came for a job interview said they wanted to be able to tell their kids and families that they were serving a higher purpose. It goes beyond just technology, right? It goes beyond just new deep learning techniques and approaches, or whatever. They want to tell their kids they are trying to save the Earth.”

Five lessons on reaching 1 billion people living with disabilities

Microsoft’s mission is to empower every person and organization on the planet to achieve more. Whether or not we succeed depends on our ability to create an inclusive company culture, deliver inclusive products for our customers and show up to the world in an inclusive way.

Recently I spoke at Microsoft’s Ability Summit about five lessons we’ve learned (so far) in our journey to inclusive and accessible marketing. I’m sharing here in hopes they will inspire your own thinking. To learn more about a couple employee-driven accessibility projects coming out of Microsoft’s One Week Hackathon, I encourage you to check out The Ability Hacks, which we published today.

1. Recognize the values case and the business case

People typically think about the values case for accessibility, which makes sense — empowering people with disabilities makes the world work better for everyone. But the business case for accessibility is equally important. According to the World Health Organization, more than 1 billion people worldwide experience some form of disability. In the US alone, that’s nearly 1 in 5 people in 1 in 3 households. If our products don’t work for a billion people, we’re not only failing in our mission, we’re also missing an enormous business opportunity.

2. Proximity powers empathy

We’ve learned the incredible value of investing in programs that bring us closer to customers of different backgrounds. We learn so much and do our best work when we commit to seeing the world from their perspectives. For instance, back at our 2015 Hackathon, a team of Microsoft engineers pitched a project with the lofty ambition of making gaming more accessible to gamers with limited mobility, and so began the journey of the Xbox Adaptive Controller. From the earliest moments, the development team reached out to nonprofits like Warfighter Engaged and AbleGamers to partner and learn how the product of their dreams could address the broadest set of needs in the real world. The team increased community engagement at every milestone, from product design and engineering, to prototype testing with gamers living with disabilities, to designing final retail packaging. The empathy we gained forged the path to a product we’re very proud of, that we hope gamers everywhere love when it arrives this September.

3. Accessibility for few becomes usability for many

We see time and again that our accessibility work starts out focused on enabling a specific set of customers but ends up benefiting everyone. For instance, Microsoft events are a major marketing investment each year, so it’s important our events meet the needs of every attendee, including people living with disabilities. A few years ago, we began live-transcribing event keynotes with the goal of helping attendees who are deaf or hard of hearing more easily follow along with keynotes. To our surprise, we ended up getting far more feedback from attendees who speak English as a second language – live transcription helped them navigate highly technical discussions and fast-paced product demos. Now we provide live transcription services in keynotes at all large Microsoft events and open captioning (and in many cases audio description) in company videos. The positive responses we’ve received speak to the broader, unexpected benefits of embracing accessibility.

If you find a Microsoft video missing captions, please contact us via our
Disability Answer Desk.

4. All marketing should be inclusive marketing

There’s value in audience-specific marketing programs, but we’ve learned we get the best results when mainstream marketing programs feature people from a range of audiences, backgrounds and life experiences. For instance, in our most recent AI ad we tell three different customer stories – one on preserving ancient architecture, one on sustainable farming and one on audio visualization AI – all woven together seamlessly as cool examples of how AI is improving lives for people today.

Pro tip: Make your presentations more accessible by adding live subtitles with the
Presentation Translator add-in for PowerPoint.

5. Real people, real stories

A few years back, we shifted our marketing approach to show technology empowering real people to do real things. As a result, we’ve seen far stronger return on investment than we would hiring actors to depict the stories of others. The video below is a powerful example – it features real students from Holly Springs Elementary in Georgia talking about how Microsoft Learning Tools help them overcome obstacles to reading.

Not only is the story more credible coming from real students, it makes the core empowerment message relatable to more people. This shift in philosophy now guides decisions on who represents Microsoft in our ads, on our website and at our events. In each case, real people sharing real stories is the most effective way to bring the impact of technology to life.

Real people sharing real stories is the most effective way to bring the impact of technology to life.

These are just five of many lessons we’ve learned, and our work is only beginning. We’re energized to keep learning and sharing our biggest lessons, because there’s tremendous value in embracing inclusion and accessibility – for your people, your bottom line, your customers and the world.

Lilly strives to speed innovation with help from Microsoft 365 Enterprise – Microsoft 365 Blog


Profile picture of Ron Markezich.The nearly 40,000 employees of Eli Lilly and Company are on a mission to make medicines that help people live longer, healthier, and more active lives. But they know that developing new treatments for cancer, diabetes, and other debilitating diseases requires collaboration with the best minds working together to foster innovation.

That’s why Lilly takes a collaborative approach to discovering and developing new medicines—between lab researchers and the rest of the company—as well as with a global network of physicians, medical researchers, and healthcare organizations. Working together—creatively and efficiently—can help generate new ideas that fuel innovation. To bring together scientists across hundreds of locations and organizations and truly empower the workforce, Lilly selected Microsoft 365 Enterprise.

While Lilly is in the early stage of deployment, these cloud-based collaboration tools, including Microsoft Teams, are making an impact. Mike Meadows, vice president and chief technology officer at Lilly, says that the technology will allow for enhanced productivity and teamwork, while helping to protect IP:

“Collaboration tools like Microsoft Teams enhance our ability for researchers and other employees to work together in faster and more creative ways, advancing our promise to make life better through innovative medicines. Microsoft 365 helps us bring the best minds together while keeping data secure and addressing regulatory compliance requirements.”

Like enterprise customers across the globe, Lilly sees Microsoft 365 as a robust, intelligent productivity and collaboration solution that empowers employees to be creative and work together. And when deployment of Windows 10 is complete, employees across the company will advance a new culture of work where creative collaboration that sparks critical thinking and innovation happens anywhere, anytime.

At Microsoft, we’re humbled to play a role in helping Lilly make life better for people around the world.

—Ron Markezich

Meet Microsoft News: A new way to stay informed across the Web, Windows 10, iOS and Android – Windows Experience Blog

Our mission for more than two decades has been to keep you informed in an easily accessible, comprehensive and trustworthy way. Today, we share the next step in our evolution.

Microsoft has been in the news business for more than 23 years. When we launched MSN in 1995, the news industry was just beginning to provide content online. The period that followed was one of dramatic change and reinvention, forcing news organizations to re-think their programming and business strategies. We changed, too, from a feature of Windows 95 to a network of web and app experiences that now reaches nearly half a billion people in more than 140 countries and 28 languages. As we’ve evolved, our central mission has remained the same: to keep our audience informed in an easily accessible, comprehensive and trustworthy way.

Today, we’re excited to share the next step in our evolution – Microsoft News.

Microsoft News Editors at Mexico City Editorial Hub

Microsoft News Editors at Mexico City Editorial Hub

What is Microsoft News? 

Microsoft News is the new name for our news engine that powers familiar sites like MSN.com, and our newly redesigned Microsoft News app for iOS and Android. Microsoft News also powers news on Microsoft Edge, the News app in Windows 10, Skype, Xbox and Outlook.com.

Microsoft News represents the ways we keep people informed across the web, phone and PC, using our long-tested approach of curating news via publishing partnerships, human editors, and AI. We work with more than a thousand premium publishers and more than 3,000 brands in all major global markets – like USA Today, The New York Times, FOX News, The Washington Post, The Guardian, Le Monde, Die Welt, El País, BBC News, Kyodo News, and many more – to aggregate the best news, videos, photos and other content and deliver it, for free, to people all over the world.

MSN, powered by Microsoft News

MSN, powered by Microsoft News

Microsoft News makes it easy for you to personalize your news experience, including prioritizing your favorite topics on MSN.com or selecting interests to follow in your news feed on the Microsoft Edge Start page and our apps on Windows 10, iOS and Android, so you can quickly get to the information you want most when and where you want it. We also enable our many publishing partners to connect with new audiences and earn money for their content at a time when that is crucial to the survival of the industry – so they can continue to invest in high-quality, credible journalism.

Microsoft News for iOS and Android

You can experience the best of what Microsoft News has to offer in our newly redesigned Microsoft News app for iOS and Android, available today. The app makes it easy to get news wherever you are, focused on the topics you care about most – like having your own portable newsroom.

Microsoft News app for Android – dark theme

Microsoft News app for Android – dark theme

The app has been completely redesigned into a modern and beautiful experience tailored to iOS and Android devices. Here are some of our favorite new features:

  • New personalization upgrades, including the ability to tailor interests to follow in your news feed – such as World News, Personal Finance, Fitness and many more – and to roam interests across devices and local news options for top cities
  • Easy to configure breaking news alerts
  • A new dark theme, enabling better night reading
  • Simplified access through seamless integration with iOS and Android widgets
  • Continuous reading, for a smooth content experience

Get the app now.

Supporting the publishing ecosystem and quality journalism

We know we can’t do it alone. We may have decades of news experience under our belt but there are many institutions that have been at it much, much longer. These institutions have defined what we think of as quality journalism through years of essential reporting.

We believe that a free, well-funded press is a critical part of our social fabric and are proud to partner with the world’s best news brands, offering a business model that gives people access, at no-cost, to trustworthy news and provides a sustainable source of revenue for publishers. In just the past four years we’ve delivered more than $600 million back to our publishers, enabling them to focus on what they do best: quality journalism.

“Microsoft has been a great partner over the last several years, working closely with our newsroom and collaborating as they consider new features and services. We appreciate partners like Microsoft who value trusted reporting and seek ways to elevate and share premium journalism to millions of readers who are looking for information from a reliable source.”

— Maribel Wadsworth, publisher of USA TODAY and president, USA TODAY NETWORK

“Microsoft is a great partner for us because it offers both impressive reach and a well-earned reputation as a trusted source of news.”

— Rich Kennedy, SVP of Business Development, Business Insider

“We are very happy that Microsoft is investing further in highlighting valuable and trusted sources of news. The launch of Microsoft News is another positive proof point of publisher-platform relationships strengthening and we look forward to seeing what’s to come.”

— Matt Dornic, VP for Communications and Digital Partnerships, CNN

“Microsoft has been a valued partner in delivering CBSN’s live, 24/7 news coverage and analysis to an expansive audience that’s hungry for quality news and information. We look forward to continuing our strong relationship.”

— Christy Tanner, Executive Vice President and General Manager, CBS News Digital

“MSN delivers premium content at scale and high ad viewability that truly performs for our advertisers.”

— Jeff Lucas, Head of Americas Sales and Global Teams, Oath

“As part of our strategic partnership with Microsoft, Taboola powers content recommendations across Microsoft’s consumer properties in 55 markets and localized for 22 languages. We work together to create highly personalized experiences for consumers, drive engagement, monetization, increase awareness for Microsoft’s internal promotions and enable audience growth. We have seen in our three years of partnership that Microsoft audiences are incredibly valuable. When looking at Microsoft News users discovering content, as opposed to people coming from social or search, they engage 2-3x more, and in many ways are ‘super users’.”

— Adam Singolda, Founder and CEO, Taboola

Curated news by editors

Every day, our publishing partners send us more than 100,000 unique pieces of content.  Our AI scans the content as it arrives, processes it to understand dimensions like freshness, category, topic type, opinion content and potential popularity and then presents it for our editors. Our algorithms suggest appropriate photos to pair with content to help bring stories to life. Editors then curate the top stories throughout the day, across a variety of topics, so our readers get the latest news from the best sources.

This curation process is global, using editors with local expertise. Today, there are more than 800 editors working from 50 locations around the world – including editorial newsrooms serving multiple regions in India, Germany, France, Mexico, Canada and Spain. Many of our editors have extensive backgrounds in media and journalism and have worked at a variety of news organizations including The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, Globe and Mail, Newsday, NBCSports.com, Seattle Times, Asahi Shimbun and Associated Press.

Microsoft News Editors at Delhi Media Center

Microsoft News Editors at Delhi Media Center

Diversity, in our newsroom and in the publishers we partner with, is a key ingredient of the Microsoft News experience. We carefully compose our pages every day to present multiple sides of a story and consciously curate a wide variety of opinion pieces so that our readers can explore issues via new and different perspectives. We believe thoughtful opinion pieces—which we clearly mark as such—help readers better understand the news. With that goal in mind, we’re always assessing our network of partners to ensure that we provide the most diverse, credible and well-rounded content available.

At Microsoft News, we’re constantly refining and improving our experiences to continue to serve the needs of people and partners around the globe. We hope you will visit MSN.com, the Microsoft Edge Start page and give the new app a try!

Updated June 20, 2018 11:47 am

‘I’ll do it’: how a former spacecraft engineer said ‘yes’ and launched great things – Microsoft Life

While working on the Mars Pathfinder mission at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, I came to a fork in the road. It was a moment when I had to decide whether to move out of my comfort zone and take a risk.

NASA was putting together a 25-person launch team that would temporarily move from California to Florida near the Kennedy Space Center. All of my best buddies were going to be on this team. I knew it was going to be a “work hard, play hard” scenario, and I really wanted to go.

Up until that point I had been working as the lead for the simulation software that was used to prepare for the mission. At one point, a colleague and I were tasked with fixing the flight simulation code, including the star scanner—the eyeball of the spacecraft. The flight simulation code fakes out the spacecraft so it thinks it’s flying to Mars when it’s really sitting in the lab in Pasadena. The work had fallen nine months behind schedule, and my teammate Miguel and I had been given eight weeks to complete the code. Neither of us had ever written this kind of code before, but failure was not an option.

In one way, the entire Pathfinder mission was a risk—it was an attempt to reinvent space travel, an experiment to see just how cheap and how fast we could put a spacecraft on another planet. And we didn’t want to disappoint America.

Cindy Healy at the Kennedy Space Center in October 1996.

Cindy Healy at the Kennedy Space Center in October 1996.

Working night and day, we got the code written and meeting performance targets, and then it was time for some folks to head to Florida to prep for the launch. I really wanted to go. But, I wasn’t on the list because my role was not critical to the Florida operations.

My coworker was the UNIX system administrator, and he was on the list. But, he and his wife were having a baby, and he didn’t want to go.

In one moment, I had to make a critical decision: would I take a risk? I had no idea how to do the job. But I love a challenge, and I really wanted to go to Florida.

I raised my hand and said, “I’ll do it, just teach me how to be the UNIX system administrator.” As if it’s so easy.

So my coworker trained me, and I was just writing everything in a notebook, scribbling down as much as I could. Those notes were all I would have to help me do the job.

To go to the launch prep site in Florida, I had to pack up all these computers, wrap and bundle cables, crawl on floors, and get all of this gear together. This, I learned, was the glamorous life of a UNIX system administrator. Then when we arrived, I had to unpack the boxes, lay the cables, hook up all the test equipment, and format all the UNIX machines. It was dirty work, but I was happy to do it. I was at the Kennedy Space Center, so my mission was accomplished.

Fast forward to the night of Pathfinder’s launch: I was a few minutes late because I had stopped near the launchpad to take a picture with the rocket in the background.

When I arrived, everyone was looking at me panicked, like, where have you been? I was confused, thinking, what’s wrong? That’s when I found out that we had no connection back to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. It was a job for the UNIX system administrator.

My imposter syndrome threatened to kick in. I knew only what my notebook said, and the mission was waiting. It turned out that the first thing the notebook said was to make sure everything was connected.

With all eyes on me, I crawled around and, sure enough, I got to the router and one plug was just a little bit loose. I jiggled it back into place, and we were back online. I was a hero!

Hearing each station say “go for launch” just like in the movies and then going outside and watching Pathfinder take off into the night sky was an amazing experience. We all had a huge sense of accomplishment that day.

What I learned from the Pathfinder mission is that I thrive on challenge. A lot of times, I didn’t know what I was doing, but I did it anyway. One of the things I love about our current culture at Microsoft is how we are now embracing taking risks. Things have changed since I got here 12 years ago—we’ve learned that everything doesn’t have to be perfect to make forward progress.

I kept that in mind when I took on a project to create a single sign-on experience for Microsoft extranet applications for our partners. A big issue was that there were so many entry points for business-to-business operations—users might have to go to 50 different sites, using five different passwords, to do their business. In a single week, I heard a partner and a vice president complain about this problem. But people weren’t sure who should fix it or how. So I thought to myself, I’ll do it.

A near-term solution seemed to be a password keeper that simplified the login process. I wrote a white paper about it, sold it to leadership, and worked with the Azure team to use their B2B Access Panel as the solution. It worked: the single sign-on access panel is a big success story. Because of that, I won a Circle of Excellence award in 2016, the highest internal company award that an employee can win, which was a huge personal goal I had put on my vision board many years ago.

I’ve been inspired by how we’ve embraced a new approach of curiosity here at Microsoft. We have a more iterative approach—not everything has to be launched at scale. It reminds me of Pathfinder, where there really was no competition; we were all just working together and were united behind a common purpose.

It’s been very interesting working as a woman in engineering and technology. I grew up lower-middle class in Anaheim, California. I had no one pushing me to go to college. College was not an expectation in my high school or in my family, especially for women—it was more about learning how to cook and taking home economics. I worked in an arcade after high school, in the cashier’s booth. My lead recognized that my change drawer was always accurate, and she suggested that I go to college and major in computer science.

I applied on a whim and was accepted. In college, it was sometimes very lonely in my classes. I’m extroverted socially, but most of my classmates were not. I decided to stick with it, and I started liking it more and more; by senior year, I was really engaging in the work.

It’s been a disappointment that the number of women in tech has not improved much since I was in college. As much as I can, I try to help cultivate women’s professional development and advocate for STEM education. I had a big “aha” moment at Grace Hopper when I heard someone speak about how we often think to fill a role with someone who looks like the person who just left or who looks like the rest of the current team. It takes conscious thinking to say we’re going to hire someone different. If we don’t, we’re missing out on new perspectives, and we risk getting stuck in “group think.”

A few years ago, I started a DigiGirlz day camp program, sponsored by my organization, to help give young girls opportunities in STEM. And last year, I helped put on a “Shark Tank”-like event for women, where leaders offered to mentor or sponsor people whose ideas they liked. All four ideas got sponsorship, and three got implemented. This reinforced the fact that sometimes you just have to create your opportunity.

It’s amazing what can happen when you set a clear mission for people and get out of their way, and when you allow for experimentation. We just had a 20-year Pathfinder reunion this past summer, and one thing we all spent time remembering was that spirit of empowerment and embracing risk. Pathfinder was an attempt to reinvent space travel—people were doing things that were completely out of the box. We did something that had never been done before. I am so proud to be a part of this little piece of history.

I have seen what can happen when you keep your mind open to new ideas and continually take on big challenges. I try to keep that front and center at all times and inspire others to do so, too.

Are you a Microsoft employee with a journey to share? Drop us a line from your work email at MicrosoftLife (at) microsoft.com.