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Microsoft sharpens AI focus with new research group

Sept 29 Microsoft Corp said on Thursday it created a new artificial intelligence unit, as the company pushes deeper into the fast-growing field.

Silicon Valley is diving into artificial intelligence (AI)and machine learning research, an industry estimated to zoom to $70 billion by 2020 from just $8.2 billion in 2013, according to a Bank of America report that cited IDC research.

On Wednesday, Microsoft teamed up with four other big technology companies - Amazon.com Inc, Alphabet unit Google, Facebook Inc and IBM - to create a non-profit organization to advance public understanding of AI technologies.

The new unit - Microsoft AI and Research Group - will be headed by Harry Shum, a company veteran who has held senior roles at the Microsoft Research and Bing engineering divisions.

"Microsoft has been working in artificial intelligence since the beginning of Microsoft Research, and yet we've only begun to scratch the surface of what's possible," Shum said in a statement.

Chief Executive Satya Nadella has previously said the company's $26.2 billion deal for LinkedIn Corp is expected to help bolster its efforts in analytics, machine learning and AI.

Microsoft has also been acquiring companies to expand its AI footprint. The company in February acquired SwiftKey, a maker of predictive keyboard app. And last month it bought Genee, an AI-based scheduling service.

However, Microsoft's tryst with artificial intelligence took an embarrassing turn earlier this year, when its AI 'chatbot' Tay launched racist and sexist comments on Twitter.

(Reporting By Nayyar Rasheed in Bengaluru; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila)

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