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Microsoft is betting on AI to win over cloud customers as it takes on Amazon and just launched new features to help businesses enforce social distancing (MSFT)


Microsoft's CEO Satya Nadella

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Microsoft has aimed to help its customers navigate the coronavirus pandemic using AI and just launched some new tools to that end. 

Microsoft launched an AI product called Spatial Analysis at its Ignite conference on Tuesday that helps organizations create room layouts to make sure their employees and customers are observing social distancing. With Spatial Analysis, which is now available in preview, organizations can visually understand whether they are making the best use of their space, while making sure people follow health compliance measures. 

For example, a retail customer can use it to design the layout of its store in a way that makes it easy for people to stay six feet apart from each other. Likewise, the real estate firm RXR Reality used Spatial Analysis to process real-time video to count the number of people in a building and calculate the distance between them — data which is then sent to the cloud for alerting and analysis.

"We've been hard at work at Microsoft to help customers deal with the world we're in right now," Bharat Sandhu, director of artificial intelligence at Microsoft, told Business Insider. "We help customers stay agile in today's environment."

Already, health organizations have been using Microsoft's AI features during the pandemic. For example, Philips Medical uses a Microsoft AI product to make sure its applications are unbiased (like, ensuring that its ICU care is treating different groups of people fairly, regardless of gender or ethnicity).

DNAstack used Azure Machine Learning to build COVID cloud, a repository for genomic data on coronavirus, while other health organizations have used Microsoft's AI applications to create bots to help people navigate COVID-19 information and testing. 

AI is a key part of Microsoft's cloud strategy

Microsoft has been working to win customers over to its cloud as it takes on its biggest rival, Amazon Web Services. AI has become a major part of Microsoft's strategy for its cloud, Azure. Today, Azure AI has tens of thousands of paying customers, and over 85% of Fortune 100 companies use Azure AI, including a "dramatic uptick" in the last few years, according to Sandhu. 

"We see AI being super useful to get new customers into Azure for the first time," Sandhu said. "We've seen AI provide more value to our customers."

Read more: Microsoft's developer tools are the best in the business, but customer concerns over its cloud capacity could hurt its ability to compete with Amazon and Google, new research shows

Besides Spatial Analysis, Microsoft also launched Metrics Advisor for developers to monitor the data in their apps, Designer for people to build machine learning applications using drag-and-drop tools, and Automated ML UI for developers and data scientists to easily build machine learning models without having to write a single line of code. 

Sandhu said customers can use these tools to "build models and use capabilities to understand how the models work without having the person be a super-duper expert."

SEE ALSO: Cloud salaries revealed: How much Amazon, Microsoft, Google, and even non-tech companies pay engineers, architects, consultants, and salespeople focused on cloud technologies

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