Microsoft’s Project Brainwave Platform for Real-Time AI Launched

Software giant Microsoft has announced its Project Brainwave deep learning acceleration platform for real-time artificial intelligence (AI).

With the help of ultra-low latency, the system processes requests as fast as it receives them.

“Real-time AI is becoming increasingly important as cloud infrastructures process live data streams, whether they be search queries, videos, sensor streams, or interactions with users,” said Doug Burger, an engineer at Microsoft, in a blog post late on Tuesday.

The ‘Project Brainwave’ uses the massive field-programmable gate array (FPGA) infrastructure that Microsoft has been deploying over the past few years.

“By attaching high-performance FPGAs directly to our datacentre network, we can serve DNNs as hardware microservices, where a DNN can be mapped to a pool of remote FPGAs and called by a server with no software in the loop,” Burger said.

He added that the system architecture reduces latency, since the CPU does not need to process incoming requests, and allows very high throughput, with the FPGA processing requests as fast as the network can stream them.

Microsoft's Project Brainwave Platform for Real-Time AI LaunchedThe system has been architected to yield high actual performance across a wide range of complex models, with batch-free execution.

Microsoft claimed that the system, designed for real-time AI, can handle complex, memory-intensive models such as Long Short Term Memories (LSTM), without using batching to juice throughput.

“Project Brainwave achieves unprecedented levels of demonstrated real-time AI performance on extremely challenging models. As we tune the system over the next few quarters, we expect significant further performance improvements,” Burger noted.

Microsoft is also planning to bring the real-time AI system to users in Azure.

“With the ‘Project Brainwave’ system incorporated at scale and available to our customers, Microsoft Azure will have industry-leading capabilities for real-time AI,” Burger noted.

Microsoft Surface Devices Fail on Reliability, Finds Consumer Reports Survey

The breakage rate for Microsoft’s Surface devices is significantly worse than for other manufacturers’ laptops and tablets, Consumer Reports said, adding that it was removing its “recommended” designation for Surface products.

The non-profit publication surveyed 90,000 tablet and laptop owners and found that an estimated 25 percent of those with Microsoft Surface devices would be presented with “problems by the end of the second year of ownership,” according to a study published on Thursday.

“If you are very concerned about how long your products are going to last, it might be better for you to go with a brand that has a higher predicted reliability,” Jerry Beilinson, electronics editor at the consumer goods testing publication, said in an interview.

Microsoft disputed the study, saying the company’s return and support rates differ significantly from the Consumer Reports study.

“We don’t believe these findings accurately reflect Surface owners’ true experiences or capture the performance and reliability improvements made with every Surface generation,” the company said in a statement.

According to the Consumer Reports survey responses, the Microsoft devices were found to freeze, unexpectedly shut down or have issues with their touchscreens, Beilinson said.

Altogether, the reliability issues made Microsoft a statistical outlier compared with other brands. Apple Inc had the most reliable devices, Beilinson said.

Microsoft entered the hardware market with its first Surface tablet in 2012. Since then, the company has released a series of new Surface tablets and laptops, including the well-reviewed Surface Pro, which launched in May.

Microsoft Surface Devices Fail on Reliability, Finds Consumer Reports SurveyThe Surface devices serve as a face for the company and exemplify how Microsoft’s manufacturing partners can build hardware around the Windows 10 operating system. However, Surface is a small part of Microsoft’s overall revenue, and Surface revenue has declined year-over-year for the past two quarters.

“The reality is that Microsoft has very little experience in some of the newer categories it’s entering very rapidly, which may expose it to more risk of problems in manufacturing,” said Jan Dawson, chief analyst at Jackdaw Research.

Consumer Reports has conducted its annual reliability study since 1952, starting with cars. The study is also used to determine the reliability of products like refrigerators, lawn mowers, televisions and more. In more recent years, the organization has added laptops and tablets.

Microsoft Memo Shows High Return Rates for Surface Book: Report

Microsoft’s Surface products came under the scanner when Consumer Reports released a survey report claiming that the laptops and tablets in this series were not reliable. The non-profit publication surveyed 90,000 tablet and laptop owners and found that an estimated 25 percent of those with Microsoft Surface devices would be presented with “problems by the end of the second year of ownership.” While Microsoft dismissed these claims at first, it didn’t provide any clarity or detail to counter the findings. Now, an internal company memo has been leaked, and it seems to dive deep into the study and the possible reasons why these incorrect conclusions were derived by Consumer Reports.

According to the leaked internal memo, obtained by Paul Thurrott, high Surface Pro 4 and Surface Bookreturn rates could have influenced the findings of the Consumer Reports study heavily. The memo shared a chart that showed return rates for the Surface Book, Surface Pro 4, and Surface Pro 3.

The Surface Book, notably, has suffered the most, with return rates reaching to 17 percent at launch. It remained above 10 percent for six months, and is reported to have the highest return rates than any other Surface product in two years of its life cycle. Surface Pro 4 had 16 percent return rates at launch, but dropped below 10 percent in one month. Lastly, Surface Pro 3 also saw 11 percent return rates, but that also dropped to 10 percent soon after.

Microsoft Memo Shows High Return Rates for Surface Book: ReportIn the memo, Surface products lead Panos Panay writes, “It’s important for us to always learn more from our customers and how they view their ownership journey with our products. Feedback like this [from Consumer Reports] stings, but pushes us to obsess more about our customers.”

Panay also writes that Microsoft has worked tirelessly to fix all the issues, and the return rates have reduced a lot over the past 12 months; however that does not reflect Consumer Reports’ findings, and the study is heavily reliant of Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book users only. He claims that subsequent devices have been launched in far more reliable states, and that Microsoft is adamant on letting its users know that.

“[We] have put together a comprehensive set of data that reflects the strength of our quality and our customer sentiment, and will be working with partner organizations, including marketing, retail, and sales, to share that information broadly,” Panay writes in the memo.

However, this memo proves that the Consumer Reports findings’ has put a dent in the Surface series’ armour, and Microsoft is doing everything it can to retain popularity and do damage control.

Sonic Mania Not Available on Xbox One in India

Retro-styled platform Sonic Mania is a welcome return to form for Sega’s mascot. The game is available internationally via digital storefronts for the PS4, PC (via Steam), Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch. If you’re in India and own an Xbox One, you’re out of luck. Sonic Mania is not on the Indian Xbox Store. Searching for the game on the Xbox One, Xbox website or the Xbox app via smartphone throws up a “no results for this category” message.

This isn’t the first time digital-only games haven’t made it to the Xbox Store for India. The likes of indie darlings Firewatch and Virginia could not be purchased by Indian Xbox One owners either.

However with Sonic Mania being as high-profile as it is, it does raise a host of questions about Microsoft and Sega’s intentions for the market. It probably reflects the state of the Indian console space as well with Sony having a near monopoly on mindshare and console sales.

Nonetheless, with Xbox having an Indian presence, even its own exclusives don’t release at local retail, such as Dead Rising 4 and the Xbox One S hasn’t even been announced for the country yet. In the past Sega-produced titles like Persona 5 skipped India too.

sonic mania xbox store india sonic_mania

If you must, absolutely play Sonic Mania on the Xbox One and live in India, there is a fix involving changing your region. You can check out our handy guide here.

We’ve reached out to Sega and Microsoft for comment and will update this story the moment we hear from either company.

Microsoft Says Its Speech Recognition System Achieves New Accuracy Milestone

Microsoft’s conversational speech recognition system – designed to accurately recognises the words in a conversation like humans do – has reached a 5.1 percent error rate, its lowest so far.

This milestone means that, for the first time, a computer can recognise the words in a conversation as well as a person would.

“Our research team reached that 5.1 percent error rate with our speech recognition system, a new industry milestone, substantially surpassing the accuracy we achieved last year,” Microsoft said in a blog post late on Sunday.

Last year in October, the team from Microsoft Artificial Intelligence and Research reported a speech recognition system that makes the same or fewer errors than professional transcriptionists.

The researchers had then reported a word error rate (WER) of 5.9 percent.

“Last year, Microsoft’s speech and dialog research group announced a milestone in reaching human parity on the ‘Switchboard’ conversational speech recognition task, meaning we had created technology that recognised words in a conversation as well as professional human transcribers,” said Xuedong Huang, Technical Fellow, Microsoft.

‘Switchboard’ is a corpus of recorded telephone conversations that the speech research community has used for more than 20 years to benchmark speech recognition systems.

The task involves transcribing conversations between strangers discussing topics such as sports and politics.

Microsoft Says Its Speech Recognition System Achieves New Accuracy MilestoneThe team used “Microsoft Cognitive Toolkit 2.1” (CNTK), the most scalable deep learning software available, for exploring model architectures.

Additionally, Microsoft’s investment in cloud compute infrastructure, specifically Azure GPUs, helped improve the effectiveness and speed.

Reaching human parity with an accuracy on par with humans has been a research goal for the last 25 years.

“Microsoft’s willingness to invest in long-term research is now paying dividends for our customers in products and services such as Cortana, Presentation Translator, and Microsoft Cognitive Services,” the post read.

“Moving from recognising to understanding speech is the next major frontier for speech technology,” the post added.

Microsoft Using AI to Train Autonomous Gliders How to Make Decisions in the Air

As its rivals get busy in developing self-driving cars, Microsoft is using Artificial Intelligence (AI) to empower autonomous gliders take decisions while they are aloft and has conducted a successful flight test in the US state of Nevada.

According to a report in The New York Times late on Wednesday, Ashish Kapoor, an Indian-origin Principal Researcher at Microsoft, is leading a project in which his team tested two gliders designed to navigate the skies on their own.

“Guided by computer algorithms that learned from onboard sensors, predicted air patterns and planned a route forward, these gliders could seek out thermals – columns of rising hot air – and use them to stay aloft,” the report added.

Microsoft plans to build an autonomous aircraft that can eventually ride the air for hours or even days at a time while consuming very little power and help scientists track weather patterns, monitor farm crops or even deliver the internet to places where it is otherwise unavailable.

According to Mykel Kochenderfer, Stanford University professor of aeronautics and astronautics, Microsoft’s project is a step towards self-driving vehicles “that are nimble enough to handle all the unexpected behavior that human drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians bring to public roads”.

“With a glider, you can test these algorithms with minimal risk to people and property,” Kochenderfer was quoted as saying.

In the Nevada desert, the team led by Kapoor launched two gliders with help from a hand-held remote control.

Microsoft Using AI to Train Autonomous Gliders How to Make Decisions in the AirOnce airborne, the gliders were left to their own devices. They were forced to fly with help from the wind and other air patterns.

With the help of algorithms, the gliders analysed the activities surrounding them and then changed directions as need be. They learned from their environment and made educated guesses.

Microsoft wanted to set record with the flight but after two days of trial, due to problems with radios and other equipment, it did not happen.

Using similar methods, Google has built high-altitude Internet balloons that can stay aloft for months on end.

Several companies, including Tesla, Google, Uber and Apple are designing cars that can not only drive on their own but also keep people in the surrounding safe.

Microsoft’s DNA storage tech may fit in an enterprise

Microsoft has apparently firmed up its plans for a DNA-based storage device that it expects to be commercially available within about three years.Microsoft’s DNA storage tech may fit in an enterprise

The software giant originally unveiled its research into DNA as an archival storage medium last year; it described the technology being able to store the amount of data in “a big data center compressed into a few sugar cubes. Or all the publicly accessible data on the Internet slipped into a shoebox.

“That is the promise of DNA storage — once scientists are able to scale the technology and overcome a series of technical hurdles,” the company said in a 2016 blog post.Once endoded, the synthetic DNA is able to store 200MB of data in a space smaller thatn the tip of a pencil. Extrapolated, DNA storage could potentially store a data center’s worth of information in a space the size of a shoebox.

A Microsoft spokesperson declined to comment on the progress of its DNA storage research.

But in an article in MIT Technology Review, Doug Carmean, a partner architect at Microsoft Research, said the company hopes to create a “proto-commercial system in three years storing some amount of data on DNA in one of our data centers, for at least a boutique application.”

The storage device was described by Carmean as about the size of a large, 1970s-era Xerox copier with a data write speed of only 400MBps — something Carmean admitted needs to increase to 100MBps to compete with other archive storage mediums such as magnetic tape drives.

Natalya Yezhkova, a research director at IDC, said with the staggering rate at which digital data is growing, the necessity of a DNA-type storage medium will be critical in the next 10 to 15 years.

“Currently, the only way to address this growth is to increase footprint of data optimization techniques, whether that’s compression or deduplication,” Yezhkova said. “Those technologies are great, and mitigate some data growth, but in the longer term, we definitely need something else.”

For example, some healthcare data must be stored for the life of a patient, and federal regulations for auditing and civil litigation purposes require some financial records to be stored for seven or more years.

And, as big data analytics evolve, more companies are finding ways to cull useful marketing information from their sales and customer data archives.

Then there’s video, photograph and audio files, something every smart phone owner can create at their leisure and that’s increasingly stored by cloud services.

Researchers with Microsoft and UW developed what they described as “a novel approach” to convert the long strings of ones and zeroes in digital data into the four basic building blocks of DNA sequences — adenine, guanine, cytosine and thymine — represented as As, Gs, Cs and Ts.

The digital data is broken down into pieces and stored by synthesizing it as a massive number of tiny DNA molecules, which can be dehydrated and preserved for long-term storage.

To access the stored data, the researchers encode the equivalent of zip codes and street addresses into the DNA sequences. Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) techniques — commonly used in molecular biology — help them more easily identify the zip codes they are looking for.

DNA storage Microsoft University of Washington

UW Associate Professor Luis Henrique Ceze, in blue, and research scientist Lee Organick prepare DNA containing digital data for sequencing, which allows them to read and retrieve the original files.

DNA has a theoretical limit of being able to store more than one exabyte per millimeter, which is eight orders of magnitude denser than magnetic tape. DNA-based storage also has the benefit of eternal relevance: As long as there is DNA-based life, there will be strong reasons to read and manipulate DNA, the researchers said in a research paper.

Cloud service and hyperscale computing providers are constantly seeking new ways to store increasingly cumbersome amounts of data; that’s where DNA storage would likely see its initial home, according to Yezhkova. Cloud archive services such as Amazon Glacier or Google’s Cloud Platform would be likely candidates for a storage medium with vastly better capacities and longevity than today’s most prominent technologies.

“It’s a trade-off of speed versus the economics of storing massive amounts of data for 50 years or more that could be untouched,” Yezhkova said.

“It’s quite possible Amazon or Google could be researching DNA storage as well,” she continued. “They wouldn’t necessarily be talking about this or making it public.”

As promising as DNA storage appears to be, there are still issues that need to be solved before it can be a viable technology for the data center — for example, compatibility with existing applications and hardware. But, if those issues could be solved, “it would have a tremendous impact,” Yezhkova said.

Since 2005, the amount of electronic data has been doubling every two years, according the Digital Universe, an ongoing study by IDC.

The study estimates that from 2005 to 2020, the amount of electronic data generated throughout the world will grow by a factor of 300, from 130 exabytes to 40,000 exabytes, or 40 trillion gigabytes, which is more than 5,200GB for every person on earth.

Only a tiny fraction of the digital universe has been explored for analytic value. IDC estimates that by 2020, as much as 33% of the digital universe will contain information that might be valuable if analyzed.

By 2020, nearly 40% of the information in the digital universe will be “touched” by cloud computing providers — meaning that a byte will be stored or processed in a cloud somewhere on its journey from originator to disposal.

Last year, researchers at Microsoft and the University of Washington (UW) said they had broken a world record by storing 200MB of data on synthetic DNA strands.

The researchers said the impressive part about reaching the 200MB milestone is not just how much data they could encode onto synthetic DNA and then decode, it’s also the space they were able to store it in.

Once encoded, the data occupied a spot in a test tube “much smaller than the tip of a pencil,” Carmean said at the time.

The DNA storage also has a half-life of 500 years, even in harsh conditions. The half-life of DNA — just as with radioactive material — determines its rate of decay.

Today’s most popular storage mediums, magnetic tape, hard disk drives, optical discs and NAND flash storage all have limited lifespans, which max out anywhere from five years to several decades.

Meanwhile, the proportion of data in the digital universe that requires protection is growing faster than the digital universe itself, from less than a third in 2010 to more than 40% in 2020, according to IDC.

Microsoft rebrands Beam streaming service and adds co-streaming support

We’ve hardly had time to get acquainted with Beam, the name of Microsoft’s live game streaming service that was introduced to Windows 10 with the Creators Update, but it’s time to call it something else. That’s because Microsoft today announced a name change, along with a few new features.

Beam is now called Mixer. Matt Salsamendi, one of the co-founders of Mixer and the service’s engineering lead, said it was a “tough decision” to change the name and not one that he and Microsoft made lightly. So why do it?

“We believe so much in the power of the platform and want to grow it in every major market around the world.  Unfortunately, that wasn’t something we could do with the Beam name. We chose Mixer as our new name because it represents what we love most about the service….how it brings people together,” Salsamendi stated in a blog post announcing the name change.

He also used the name change as an opportunity to knock the competition.

“Mixer is livestreaming that is actually LIVE, compared to the 10-20 second latency you typically get on other platforms,” Salsamendi added.

Name changes like this typically don’t occur unless there is a legal reason behind it, as was the case when Microsoft renamed its SkyDrive cloud service to OneDrive. If that is the case here, Microsoft is not fessing up to it.

In any event, there is more here than just a rebranding to Mixer. In an attempt to separate Mixer from competing services such as Twitch and YouTube, Microsoft added a co-streaming service that lets four PC streamers combine their broadcasts into a shared split-screen view.

This is available now to all Mixer users. In a few weeks time, Microsoft will add the ability for Xbox One users to invite friends to co-stream right from the Guide.

Tying in with this new ability is a new beta app for mobile devices called Mixer Create. Available for Android and iOS devices, it enables self-broadcasting from mobile phones and tablets. Microsoft says it will add the ability to stream gameplay from mobile devices to the Mixer service sometime soon. Once this rolls out, mobile users will be able to co-stream with friends who are broadcasting on Windows 10 PCs, as well as Xbox One consoles and other mobile devices.

Microsoft also added Channel One, a moderated channel that is always on and shows what is happening across Mixer. Microsoft will use this channel to highlight various content, such as major game releases, livestream events, esports updates, and so forth

Samsung T350NZAAXAR 8.0″ Galaxy Tab A, 16 GB, Android 5.0, Smokey Titanium

Image result for Samsung T350NZAAXAR 8.0" Galaxy Tab A, 16 GB, Android 5.0, Smokey Titanium

The Tab A’s advanced multitasking tools and preinstalled Microsoft Office let you work anywhere, anytime

Enjoy the perfect blend of functionality and fun with this Samsung Galaxy Tab A tablet. Its speedy 1.2 GHz quad-core processor and 1.5 GB RAM combine to ensure seamless operation with even the bulkiest of apps. Split the large eight-inch screen and set up two apps side by side for added productivity thanks to the tablet’s advanced multitasking tools. The SideSync feature lets you view content that is in your tablet on other Samsung devices for effortless connectivity and a thrilling multimedia experience.

  • Samsung Galaxy Tab A’s eight-inch tablet is ideal for both work and play
  • A display resolution of 1024 x 768 XGA offers colorful full-HD image quality
  • A 1.2 GHz quad-core processor allows superfast operation
  • The Android 5.0 Lollipop operating system is user-friendly
  • A 1.5 GB RAM, 16 GB onboard memory and up to 128GB of MicroSD card slot storage accommodate large apps and multimedia files
  • 802.11 a/b/g/n, dual-band (2.4GHz + 5GHz) Wi-Fi connectivity and Bluetooth 4.1 offer fast data transfer speeds between devices
  • 5 MP rear camera and 2 MP front camera with 4x digital zoom let you capture and share memorable moments
  • Stereo speakers offer crisp audio quality
  • Disclaimer for Calif Prop 65:  This product contains an ingredient identified by California Proposition 65

Access your favorite apps while on the go with the Samsung Galaxy Tab A tablet. With high internal storage capacity and memory expansion capabilities, this tablet provides ample storage space for games, videos and music. Enjoy excellent performance and glitch-free multitasking, thanks to the quad-core processor and 1.5 GB of RAM. This tablet features several connectivity options for easy file sharing and networking, and its lithium ion battery facilitates prolonged use.

Superb Performance
The quad-core processor of this 8.0-inch tablet loads and executes tasks at lightning-fast speed to save time, and its 1.5 GB RAM supports multitasking so you can create documents, browse the Internet and play games. High storage capacity offers ample storage space for files and facilitates quick access for efficient operation. Use the integrated Kids Mode to occupy your children while keeping sensitive data secure.

Excellent Multimedia Features
This Android tablet is an ideal tool for watching videos or listening to music while on the go. Its high-resolution TFT screen and built-in stereo speakers offer high-quality graphics and sound so you can relish every detail. With a front and rear camera, this tablet lets you take pictures, record videos and communicate with your loved ones via video chat.

Versatile Connectivity
With Bluetooth 4.1 technology, this tablet enables wireless networking and file sharing. Conveniently access emails and other Internet features with the built-in Wi-Fi technology. The SideSync feature lets you access your files from other Samsung devices for extra convenience.

Practo Partners Microsoft to Let Users Make Doctor Appointments in Bing Search Results

Image result for Practo Partners Microsoft to Let Users Make Doctor Appointments in Bing Search ResultsPracto and Microsoft have partnered to improve Bing search results when it comes to searching for doctors online. The healthcare platform claims that the “collaboration will enable an easier and effective search for people looking for right medical advice.” Practo’s integration into Bing search brings the ability to book appointments, see reviews, and order lab tests on the search platform.

With this integration, Microsoft Bing users will be able to search and access details of doctors in 38 different cities in 10 regional languages including Hindi, Telugu, and Bengali. When you search for a doctor on Bing, you will now be able to book appointments online, consult online with doctors, order medicines and lab tests, store health records and even read health articles written by these doctors, right in the search results itself.

While searching for doctors in your city, you can now view profiles of doctors along with their qualifications, experience, specializations, and availability. The feature also enables people to see feedback from patients as well. Earlier, search results on Bing only showed relevant information like contact details and address of clinic, but with Practo’s database and tools, it brings additional abilities to the search platform.

A similar kind of integration was announced by Bing in February with Zomato as well. It allowed users to see reviews, book a table online, or even order food from the search results. Bing sought to make its restaurant search more refined and rich with Zomato integration, and now Practo has been brought on board to elevate doctors search as well.