June 2018

Volume 33 Number 6

[Editor's Note]

Our Intelligent Future

By Michael Desmond | June 2018

In my Editor’s Note column, “Groundhog Day,” in the February issue (msdn.com/magazine/mt829266), I honored the contributions of weather prognosticating rodents everywhere, with a collection of industry predictions from MSDN Magazine columnists. Those predictions ranged from the serious (Ted Neward expecting more “side-channel” attacks along the lines of Spectre and Meltdown), to the silly (David Platt waiting for a university to replace its science department with StackOverflow).

A common theme did emerge, though, and that was around arti­ficial intelligence (AI) and its impact on software development. Frank La Vigne, author of the Artificially Intelligent column, said that within two years AI would become a “mandatory skill set” for mainstream developers, much the way Web and later mobile development have. “It sounds far-fetched,” La Vigne told me at the time, “but then so did the idea of Web development being a mainstream enterprise development platform during the height of the client/server era.”

Test Run author James McCaffrey concurred, predicting that sophisticated tooling would drive adoption and spur enterprise developers to add prediction code to their responsibilities, much the way they took on design, implementation and test.

The Microsoft Build 2018 Conference, held May 7-10 in Seattle, has proven both authors right. At the show, Microsoft Chief Executive Officer Satya Nadella and Executive Vice President Scott Guthrie articulated the company’s expanding AI and machine learning (ML) strategy, debuting powerful new tools and platform capabilities that span the gamut from the cloud to Internet of Things (IoT) devices at the edge. The new technologies, Microsoft noted, are designed “to help every developer be an AI developer.”

If you’ve been too busy to pay it much attention, now might be a good time to carve out some time to put a little AI into your life, and to get familiar with tools like Visual Studio Tools for AI, Microsoft Cognitive Services and Azure Machine Learning Workbench.

There’s good reason to make the investment. Microsoft is working to converge and comingle its AI and cloud efforts, and opening some amazing application scenarios in the process. For instance, Microsoft is enabling the family of Cognitive Services APIs (starting with Custom Vision) for the Azure IoT Edge runtime, making it possible for an edge device, like a camera-equipped drone and field truck, to execute intelligent decision making without cloud connectivity. Efforts like Project Kinect for Azure, the Project Brainwave neural net processing architecture, and improved Cognitive Services like Custom Vision and unified Speech Service all point to Microsoft’s strategic effort to improve, extend and enrich the AI development landscape.

We’re also seeing Microsoft apply AI directly to the developer experience. At Build, the company previewed Visual Studio IntelliCode, which leverages AI to provide intelligent suggestions that can boost code quality and productivity.

Frank La Vigne says Microsoft’s efforts in the AI space play directly to what it does best: “Whether it was bringing the GUI to the masses in the ’80s or developer tools to coders in the ’90s, Microsoft has a long history of democratizing technology. In fact, I’d argue that is the company’s core strength.”

La Vigne says this year’s Build event represents an important moment for Microsoft, as it works to introduce rank-and-file developers to a new frontier in development.

“I see the world changing. In fact, it already has—it’s just that not everyone in the mainstream has realized it yet,” La Vigne, says. “What I’m interested to see is the reaction of mainstream enterprise developers to the announcements and general tone at Build.”

Michael Desmond is the editor-in-chief of MSDN Magazine