Venture into digital worlds instead of the real one!
The world is upside down right now. We’re learning lots of new phrases like social distancing, contact tracing, and stop snacking just because you’re bored. Everyone around the world is coming together to do their part, whether that’s working on finding a vaccine, delivering food and supplies, or staying indoors. Whatever the case, all of our daily routines have been thrown completely out of whack. It’s easy to get scared at a time like this, which is why focusing on something can help you stay calm.
Educators around the world are doing everything they can to provide digital lessons for the half a billion students who are out of school due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This is not an easy task and we want to do our part to help keep young minds sharp and stimulated.
If you head over to the Minecraft Marketplace, you will find some of our favorite lessons from Minecraft: Education Edition in a brand new Education category. These educational worlds can be played on your own, with your kids, parents or friends. From the comfort of your home, you can tour the International Space Station or even explore the inside of a human eye. We’ve also included ten worlds from our Marketplace creator community! Thanks to creators Everbloom, Jigarbov, Lifeboat, Razzleberries, The World Foundry, Blockworks, and Imagiverse you can explore renewable energy, marine biology, Greek history, and more! The worlds include lesson plans like creative writing activities, build challenges, and tricky puzzles.
All of these worlds are launching today and are free to download through June 30, 2020.
Anyone with Minecraft for Bedrock platforms can find these worlds by launching Minecraft and visiting the in-game store. Minecraft is available on Android & iOS, Kindle Fire, Windows 10 PC, Gear VR, Oculus Rift, Fire TV, Xbox One, Windows MR, Nintendo Switch, and PlayStation 4.
At Microsoft Quantum, our ambition is to help solve some of the world’s most complex challenges through the world’s most scalable quantum system. Recently, we introduced Azure Quantum to unite a diverse and growing quantum community and accelerate the impact of this technology. Whether it’s algorithmic innovation that improves healthcare outcomes or breakthroughs in cryogenic engineering that enable more sustainable systems design, these recent advancements across the stack are bringing the promise of quantum to our world, right now.
In December 2018, the United States Congress signed the National Quantum Initiative Act – an important milestone for investing the resources needed to continue advancing the field. As recognized by the Act, education on quantum information science and engineering needs to be an area of explicit focus, as the shortage of quantum computing talent worldwide poses a significant challenge to accelerating innovation and fully realizing the impact quantum can have on our world.
Leaders across both public and private sectors need to continue working together to develop a global workforce of quantum engineers, researchers, computer and materials scientists, and other industry experts who will be able to carry quantum computing into the future. Microsoft has been collaborating with academic institutions and industrial entities around the world to grow this quantum generation and prepare the workforce for this next technological revolution.
Empowering the quantum generation through education
Students were first introduced to quantum programming with Q# through a series of coding exercises followed by programming assignments. For their final project, student teams developed quantum solutions for specified problems – everything from entanglement games and key distribution protocols to quantum chemistry and a Bitcoin mining algorithm. Several students from this undergraduate course joined the Microsoft Quantum team for a summer internship, further developing their new skillsets and delivering quantum impact to organizations around the world.
On the heels of this hands-on teaching engagement, Microsoft has established curriculum partnerships with more than 10 institutions around the world to continue closing the skills gap in quantum development and quantum algorithm design. This curriculum is circling the globe, from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) to the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Roorkee and Hyderabad, India.
Partner universities leverage Q#, Microsoft’s quantum programming language and associated Quantum Development Kit, to teach the principles of quantum computing to the next generation of computer engineers and scientists.
“The course material extended to us by Microsoft is concise and challenging. It covers the necessary mathematical foundations of Quantum Computing. Simulation on Q# is quite straightforward and easy to interpret. Collaboration with Microsoft has indeed captivated students of IIT Roorkee to get deeper insights into Quantum Technology.”
– Professor Ajay Wasan of IIT Roorkee, Department of Physics
Q# integrates with familiar tools like Visual Studio and Python, making it a very approachable entry point for undergraduate and graduate students alike.
“I integrated Microsoft’s Q# into my UCLA graduate course called Quantum Programming. My students found many aspects of Q# easy to learn and used the language to program and run four quantum algorithms. Thus, the curriculum partnership with Microsoft [has] helped me teach quantum computing to computer science students successfully.”
– Professor Jens Palsberg of UCLA, Computer Science Department
Microsoft has also partnered with Brilliant to bring quantum computing to students and professionals around the world via a self-serve e-learning environment.
This interactive Quantum Computing course introduces students to quantum principles and uses Q# to help people learn to build quantum algorithms, simulating a quantum environment in their browsers. In the last six months, more than 40,000 people have interacted with the course and started building their own quantum solutions.
Accelerating quantum innovation through cross-industry collaboration
QED-C was established with support from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) as part of the federal strategy for advancing quantum information science. Through the QED-C, Microsoft partners with a diverse set of business and academic leaders to identify and address gaps in technology, standards, and workforce readiness facing the quantum industry.
We look forward to continuing our academic and cross-industry collaborations in developing a quantum workforce to tackle real-world scenarios and bring this revolutionary technology to fruition.
The federal government’s HR operation may be one of the world’s largest, with responsibility for a federal workforce of 2.1 million. The Office of Personnel Management gives federal agencies policy expertise and HR technology advice. It is now embroiled in a debate about its future.
President Trump’s administration wants to merge OPM with the General Services Administration (GSA). The GSA manages federal real estate, but is also a center for technology expertise and creates vehicles for agencies to acquire technology and hire private sector professional services, including HR.
By merging OPM with GSA, the Trump administration said it will combine expertise, save about $23 million annually in administrative efficiencies and accelerate the modernizing of HR tech. But the proposal is generating a pushback from critics, who caution the move could fracture policy development and politicize employment decisions.
Jeffrey NealFormer chief human capital officer, Department of Homeland Security
The merger calls for giving federal workforce policy control to the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The White House argued this change will help establish an enterprise-wide HR strategy for the federal government. The concern is this change will open the federal hiring to patronage where jobs could be awarded as election spoils.
“Splitting policy development between a handful of people in OMB and a group at GSA may make policies more likely to be driven by political concerns,” said Jeffrey Neal, former chief human capital officer for the Department of Homeland Security. He is a senior vice president at consulting and technology services provider ICF International Inc., in Fairfax, Va.
Moreover, Neal believes the plan could impede HR operations. “The merger would not give departments and agencies any authorities they do not already have and might impede the ability of the government to develop policies that could make the government more competitive in the labor market,” he said.
Federal workforce needs predictive analytics
Linda Springer, a former director of OPM, told lawmakers at a recent hearing about the proposal. She said OPM does need to improve some of its capabilities, such as “predictive analytics to anticipate the personnel management demands of the future and move to a proactive, rather than a reactive, posture.”
But Springer warned against the White House plan. It risks “tearing apart” an independent agency and putting it at risk of bad political practices, she said.
“Is it reasonable for a White House office to issue policy guidance and review requests to appoint political appointees to competitive positions?” Springer said to lawmakers. “The proposal places federal personnel policy setting right back in a place where the spoils and patronage system had taken hold.”
House Democrats oppose the merger and recently voted to block the formation of OPM-GSA. A merger prohibition was included in the National Defense Authorization Act, a budget bill. The Senate has not acted on it.
OPM offers federal agencies acquisition assistance, which includes HR-related contract services. GSA awards contract vehicles for many of these services, “so an OPM-GSA merger would have little impact” on the contractors, said Ray Bjorklund, president of BirchGrove Consulting LLC, a federal contracting advisory firm.
OPM “must demonstrate certain aspects of its value to customer agencies,” Bjorklund said, otherwise agencies can do their own contracting. “I don’t think there will be much disruption in how the agencies contract for HR services,” he said, should the merger take place.
The “core value” of OPM is its policy expertise, and if the merger isn’t planned well, “some of the expertise now concentrated in OPM will get diluted,” Bjorklund said.
Inside Xbox kicks off one of the world’s largest video game shows with a live broadcast direct from Cologne, Germany on Tuesday, August 21 at 7:30 a.m. PDT/10:30 a.m. EDT on Mixer, Twitch, YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter.
Inside Xbox kicks off one of the world’s largest video game shows with a live broadcast direct from Cologne, Germany on Tuesday, August 21 at 7:30 a.m. PDT/10:30 a.m. EDT on Mixer, Twitch, YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter.
Microsoft has long been known for suites of products, Smith said, and the company is now bringing that approach to a new suite of programs, AI for Good. This initiative’s first program, AI for Earth, was started in 2017 and brings advances in computer science to four environmental areas of focus: biodiversity, water, agriculture and climate change.
Under this program, Microsoft is committing $50 million over five years to provide seed grants to nongovernmental organizations, startups and researchers in more than 20 countries, Smith said. The most promising projects will receive additional funding, and Microsoft will use insights gleaned to build new products and tools. The program is already showing success, Smith said — the use of AI helped farmers in Tasmania improve their yields by 15 percent while reducing environmental runoffs. And in Singapore, AI helped reduce electrical consumption in buildings by almost 15 percent.
“We’re finding that AI, indeed, has the potential to help solve some of the world’s most pressing problems,” he said.
Improving accessibility for people with disabilities
Computers can see and hear. They can tell people what’s going on around them. Those abilities position AI to help the more than one billion people worldwide who have disabilities, Smith said.
“One of the things we’ve learned over the last year is that it’s quite possible that AI can do more for people with disabilities than for any other group on the planet,” he said.
Recognizing that potential, Microsoft in May announced AI for Accessibility, a $25 million, five-year initiative focused on using AI to help people with disabilities. The program provides grants of technology, AI expertise and platform-level services to developers, NGOs, inventors and others working on AI-first solutions to improve accessibility. Microsoft is also investing in its own AI-powered solutions, such as real-time, speech-to-text transcription and predictive text functionality.
Smith pointed to Seeing AI, a free Microsoft app designed for people who are blind or have low vision, as an example of the company’s efforts. This app, which provides narration to describe a person’s surroundings, identify currency and even gauge emotions on people’s faces, has been used over four million times since being launched a year ago.
“AI is absolutely a game-changer for people with disabilities,” Smith said.
Governing AI: a Hippocratic Oath for coders?
For AI to fulfill its potential to serve humanity, it must adhere to “timeless values,” Smith said. But defining those values in a diverse world is challenging, he acknowledged. AI is “posing for computers every ethical question that has existed for people,” he said, and requires an approach that takes into account a broad range of philosophies and ethical traditions.
University students and professors have been seeking to create a Hippocratic Oath for AI, Smith said, similar to the pledge doctors take to uphold specific ethical standards. Smith said a broader global conversation about the ethics of AI is needed, and ultimately, a new legal framework.
“We’re going to have to develop these ethical principles, and we’re going to have to work through the details that sometimes will be difficult,” he said. “Because the ultimate question is whether we want to live in a future of artificial intelligence where only ethical people create ethical AI, or whether we want to live in a world where, at least to some degree, ethical AI is required and assured for all of us.
“There’s only one way to do that, and that is with a new generation of laws.”
A new wave of innovation is surging ahead. And, the world’s manufacturing powerhouse, Asia, is riding its crest.
The billions of appliances, gadgets, machines, and vehicles that are routinely rolling off Asian production lines are becoming smarter and connected. So too are the factories that make them.
Built with sensors, infused with artificial intelligence (AI) and enabled by machine learning (ML), these devices will push the boundaries of the Internet of Things (IoT) through the next decade and beyond. Advanced algorithms will help them see, listen, reason, predict and more, without requiring “always on” connectivity to the cloud.
This is the intelligent edge and it is based on the principle that data has gravity. In other words, the closer we move computing to a device, the faster we can move from insights to action.
You can see edge computing is any scenario where data is collected and processed inside a device or machine, allowing it to act faster than it would if had to rely on the cloud. Equipment on a factory floor can use ML and AI to anticipate when a part will break or fail. An autonomous car will be able to take evasive action when it faces a possible collision. In both cases, the milliseconds saved could be the critical difference between a safe outcome and an accident.
At this year’s Computex trade show in Taipei, we saw how the intelligent edge will be a key part of a future in which trusted, ubiquitous computing will be part of the fabric of life.
“Everything in our lives is being connected,” Nick Parker, Microsoft’s Corporate Vice President of Consumer and Device Sales, said in a keynote address to a sell-out audience.ws. “Whether it is the sensors in our domestic appliances, whether it is our cars, whether it is new markets for precision agriculture, whether it is the IoT of our lives, or maybe in the experiences we have with technology.”
With insights gleaned from these connected intelligent devices, companies will be able to reimagine business models with new product offerings, new customer experiences, and new efficiencies.
The business potential is huge, and the competition is likely to be fierce. Isaiah Cheung, Microsoft’s Vice President for Consumer and Device Sales in the Greater China Region, said the race is now on among Asian manufacturers and service providers to get into the intelligent edge game.
“New emerging device companies in our region want to infuse their products with AI,” he said. “And big, established companies are doing the same. They want AI built into the big multimillion dollar machinery in their factories to improve efficiency. And, they want to build the intelligent edge into all the consumer devices, appliances and services they export around the world.
“Just the other day, I had one big brand ask me how they could put AI into a new line of rice cookers. Another one is doing the same with its white goods. The list goes on and on.”
To add to this progress, Microsoft has established the Intelligent Edge Partner Community. “Our initial focus is on fostering collaboration across our partners, providing training, and early-adopter programs,” Roanne Sones, Microsoft’s Corporate Vice President of Core Operating System and Intelligent Edge, shared. “From a resource perspective, members receive access to documentation, specs, builds and certification details to further their intelligent edge business”.
Parker sees a new wave of business opportunities and economic progress coming off the back of the intelligent edge, with Asia being a major player.
“Asia has always been very much a center of global innovation, whether it is in a lab in Shenzhen or our partnerships across the Greater China region in terms of supply chain or our partnerships in Taiwan,” Parker to a media conference at Computex. “We see so much of our new technology, particularly in the intelligent edge, starting here and delivering worldwide.”
Asia is also playing a major role in developing new AI technologies, with Microsoft’s research labs around the world – including in China and India – working in this space for decades. They have achieved a series of breakthroughs, using the immense computing power of the Azure cloud.
With this know-how, Microsoft has been able to infuse AI into its core products and services. It has delivered AI tools and frameworks, including cognitive, vision, spatial and object APIs, and earlier this year announced a limited preview of Project Brainwave, an architecture for deep neural net processing on the edge – all of which partners can use to enable next-generation AI applications and solutions that run on devices.
Meanwhile, intelligence is spreading across mass markets as microcontroller units (MCU) become connected. These tiny AI-enabled single-chip computers (see picture at the top of this article) now power more than 9 billion new devices around the world every year.
“An MCU is a single-chip computer that is no larger than your thumbnail,” Distinguished Engineer and Managing Director at Microsoft, Galen Hunt, told the Computex audience. “These are very tiny, very low-cost chips and enabling them with connectivity means you can turn anything into an IoT device. We are headed to a world where everything can become connected.”
As amazing as they are, these tiny chips have had one a big flaw: They were never designed to be secure. When a device is compromised, it can impact your privacy, your data and your infrastructure, and even your physical security.
“If these devices aren’t secured, who are we bringing into our most personal spaces? Who are we bringing into our homes, into our schools, into our hospitals, our offices, our factories? And what is at stake? Our data, our privacy, our infrastructure, our property, even our safety.”
This changed this year when Microsoft launched Azure Sphere, an end-to-end solution for creating highly secure, MCU-powered devices.
In a recent blog, Hunt described MCU internet connectivity as “a two-way street.” “With these devices becoming a gateway to our homes, workplaces, and sensitive data, they also become targets for attacks. Look around a typical household and consider what could happen when even the most mundane devices are compromised: a weaponized stove, baby monitors that spy, the contents of your refrigerator being held for ransom.
“We also need to consider that when a device becomes compromised, it’s not just a problem for the owner, it can also become a problem for society. A device can disrupt and do damage on a larger scale.”
This is what happened with the 2016 Mirai botnet attack where roughly 100,000 compromised IoT devices were repurposed by hackers into a botnet that effectively knocked the east coast of the United States off the internet for a day.
With connected MCUs built into billions of new devices every year, it is of “paramount importance” that security keeps pace with an ever-changing threat landscape.
Hunt suggests that as we look to a future, where every device will be smart or intelligent, we need to redefine what we mean by “smart”. Yes, smart devices are intuitive, insightful, and easy to use. But we need to add one more thing: Smart devices must be secure – if a device is not secure it is not smart.
This makes security essential for manufacturers in Asia and around the world. “We see an ecosystem that is very eager to deliver the products that customers need, and customers need secure products,” he said adding that Azure Sphere makes it easy for manufacturers to create smart/intelligent products that are innately secured.
San Diego Comic-Con, the world’s largest comic and pop-culture festival, is coming soon and Xbox is bringing the fun with exclusive gear, panels, celebrity guests, and more! See below for details on everything Xbox at SDCC and join the fun from California or from the comfort of your own couch.
Xbox Booth (San Diego Comic-Con badge required) Hall A, Booth #100
For the first time ever, Xbox will have exclusive gear available at SDCC! Stop by to pick up exclusive clothing and items from Xbox and your favorite games and then get them customized on the spot with your Gamertag. See some of the items available here.
Visit us on Thursday, July 19 and Saturday, July 21 for signing sessions with some of your favorite developers and designers, but get there early: only the first 100 people to receive passes will be eligible!
Signings (San Diego Comic-Con badge required):
Brendan Greene (“PlayerUnknown”), Creative Director, PUBG Corp – Thursday, July 19 from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. PDT
Joe Neate, Executive Producer, and Mike Chapman, Design Director, Sea of Thieves – Saturday, July 21 from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. PDT
Xbox Gear Comic-Con Sweepstakes
Can’t make it to the booth to pick up the exclusive gear? Retweet @Xbox to potentially win an Xbox Gear Comic-Con prize pack! Four winners will receive a collection of exclusive Xbox Gear, and one grand prize winner will receive the gear and an Xbox One X.
Follow @Xbox or @XboxCanada on Twitter and retweet the following tweet when it goes live at the start of San Diego Comic-Con: “RT and follow for a chance to win exclusive #XboxSDCC #XboxGear! NoPurchNec. Ends 7/22/18. #Sweepstakes Rules: bit.ly/2KV2DQ1.” You have until July 22 to enter. Click through for the Official Rules.
Sea of Thieves Panel (San Diego Comic-Con badge required) Room 5AB, Saturday, July 21 from 1:30pm – 2:30pm PDT
Special guest and Sea of Thieves fan Freddie Prinze Jr. (“Star Wars Rebels,” “24,” “Scooby Doo,” “I Know What You Did Last Summer”) joins the Rare crew, Joe Neate, Mike Chapman, and Peter Hentze as they discuss the lore and expanded universe of Sea of Thieves. Attendees will also receive a limited-edition Sea of Thieves comic and time-limited exclusive in-game DLC!
Xbox Live Sessions
If you’re not in San Diego but still want to follow along with the fun, we’re hosting two action-packed Xbox Live Sessions that you won’t want to miss.
PUBG featuring Brendan “PlayerUnknown” Greene: On Thursday, July 19 at 5:00 p.m. PDT, PUBG Creative Director Brendan Greene (@PLAYERUNKNOWN) and Microsoft Executive Producer Nico Bihary (@nico_bihary) will join Rukari Austin (@rukizzelrukizzel) to get their loot on in PUBG’s Miramar map live from inside of a PUBG Bus created by West Coast Customs. That’s right – Xbox, PUBG Corp., and West Coast Customs have teamed up to create a one-of-a-kind, tricked out PUBG Bus which will be home to the livestream and available to see in-person at The Experience at Comic-Con.
Sea of Thieves with Freddie Prinze Jr.: On Saturday, July 21 at 5:00 p.m. PDT, Sea of Thieves fan Freddie Prinze Jr. (@RealFPJr) will sail the high seas with members of the Rare team and Major Nelson in an episode of Xbox Live Sessions that’s sure to test the sea legs of the seasoned actor. Fans at home can tune in and watch on http://mixer.com/Xbox and http://twitch.tv/Xbox.
Xbox at “The Experience at Comic-Con”
Head over to Petco Park where you can play Xbox One games, earn free swag, and win awesome prizes! No Comic-Con badge required.
Visit the Samsung truck at The Experience at Comic-Con, located in the Lexus Lot at Petco Park. Climb aboard the truck to compete in Forza Motorsport 7 on Xbox One X via Samsung’s 2018 QLED TVs. More information can be found here.
Come visit the first stop of the Xbox One Summer of PUBG tour. Win prizes, check out the PUBG Bus, and stick around for the Xbox Live Sessions! More information can be found here
Microsoft and National Geographic are teaming up to support data scientists who are tackling the “world’s biggest challenges.” The two companies today announced the AI for Earth Innovation Grant program, a $1 million grant that’ll provide recipients financial assistance, access to AI tools and cloud services, and more to advance conservation research.
The grant program, which is accepting applications until October 8, will support between five and 15 projects in five core areas: agriculture, biodiversity, conservation, climate change, and water. In addition to funding, researchers will gain access to Microsoft’s AI platform and development tools, inclusion in the National Geographic Explorer community, and affiliation with National Geographic Labs, National Geographic’s research incubation and accelerator initiative.
“[I]n Microsoft, we found a partner that is well-positioned to accelerate the pace of scientific research and new solutions to protect our natural world,” Jonathan Baillie, chief scientist and executive vice president at the National Geographic Society, said in a statement. “With today’s announcement, we will enable outstanding explorers seeking solutions for a sustainable future with the cloud and AI technologies that can quickly improve the speed, scope, and scale of their work, as well as support National Geographic Labs’ activities around technology and innovation for a planet in balance.”
The aim is to make trained algorithms broadly available to the global community of environmental researchers, Lucas Joppa, Microsoft’s chief environmental scientist, said in a press release.
“Microsoft is constantly exploring the boundaries of what technology can do, and what it can do for people and the world,” Joppa said. “We believe that humans and computers, working together through AI, can change the way that society monitors, models, and manages Earth’s natural systems. We believe this because we’ve seen it — we’re constantly amazed by the advances our AI for Earth collaborators have made over the past months. Scaling this through National Geographic’s … network will create a whole new generation of explorers who use AI to create a more sustainable future for the planet and everyone on it.”
Selected recipients will be announced in December.
The AI for Earth Innovation Grant is an expansion of Microsoft’s AI for Earth program, announced in June 2017. In December, the Redmond company committed $50 million to an “extended strategic plan” that includes providing advanced training to universities and NGOs and the formation of a “multi-disciplinary” team of AI and sustainability experts.
Microsoft claims that in the past two years, the AI for Earth program has awarded more than 35 grants globally for access to its Azure platform and AI technologies.