Microsoft has introduced about 100 new services and updates as part of its AI-forward strategy, including key developments within its productivity and security offerings. The announcements were made at the company’s annual Microsoft Ignite 2023 conference.

Just about every industry in Africa is undergoing a collective transformation, with estimates that AI could expand the economy as much as 50% of current GDP by 2030 if the continent could capture just 10% of the global AI market.

There are strong signals of AI’s potential to transform work across the continent. As it stands, more than half of employees in Africa and the Middle East say they would change their minds about seeking out a new job if their current employer invested in new technology like automation.

Eight months ago, Microsoft introduced Copilot for Microsoft 365 to reduce digital debt and increase productivity so people can focus on the work that is uniquely human. Already, the company’s research, from a combination of surveys and experiments, demonstrates significant productivity gains:

* 70% of Copilot users said they were more productive, and 68% said it improved the quality of their work; 68% say it helped jumpstart the creative process.

* Overall, users were 29% faster at specific tasks (searching, writing and summarising).

Microsoft’s latest announcements are geared towards helping accelerate existing progress. Key updates include:

Rethinking cloud infrastructure

Microsoft is rethinking cloud infrastructure to optimise every layer of the hardware and software stack.

New announcements across the datacentre fleet include the latest AI optimised silicon from industry partners and two new Microsoft-designed chips:

* Microsoft Azure Maia, an AI Accelerator chip designed to run cloud-based training and inferencing for AI workloads such as OpenAI models, Bing, GitHub Copilot and ChatGPT.

* Microsoft Azure Cobalt, a cloud-native chip based on Arm architecture optimised for performance, power efficiency and cost-effectiveness for general purpose workloads.

Microsoft also announced the general availability of Azure Boost, a system that makes storage and networking faster by moving those processes off the host servers on to purpose-built hardware and software.

The company also expanded partnerships with silicon providers to provide infrastructure options:

* The AMD MI300X accelerated virtual machines (VMs) will be added to Azure. The ND MI300 VMs are designed to accelerate the processing of AI workloads for high range AI model training and generative inferencing, and will feature AMD’s latest GPU, the AMD Instinct MI300X.

* The new NC H100 v5 Virtual Machine Series built for Nvidia H100 Tensor Core GPUs, offering greater performance, reliability and efficiency for mid-range AI training and generative AI inferencing was previewed. Microsoft also announced plans for the ND H200 v5 Virtual Machine Series, an AI-optimised VM featuring the upcoming Nvidia H200 Tensor Core GPU.

Extending the Microsoft Copilot experience

Microsoft is extending Microsoft Copilot offerings across solutions. Top Copilot-related announcements include:

* Microsoft Copilot for Microsoft 365: The new Microsoft Copilot Dashboard shows customers how Copilot is impacting their organisation. To empower teamwork, new features for Copilot in Outlook help users prep for meetings, and during meetings, new whiteboarding and note-taking experiences for Copilot in Microsoft Teams keep everyone on the same page.

* Microsoft Copilot Studio: This is a new end-to-end conversational AI platform that allows organisations to build their own copilots from scratch or adapt out-of-the-box copilots with their own data, logic, and actions relevant to their business needs.

* Bringing Copilot to everyone: Bing Chat and Bing Chat Enterprise will now simply become Copilot. With these changes, when signed in with a Microsoft Entra ID, customers using Copilot in Bing, Edge and Windows will receive the benefit of commercial data protection.

Unlocking more value for developers with Azure AI

Microsoft announced Model-as-a-Service, a new feature in the model catalogue that will allow pro developers to integrate latest AI models such as Llama 2 from Meta and upcoming premium models from Mistral and Jais from G42 as API endpoints to their applications. They can also customise these models with their own data without needing to worry about setting up and managing the GPU infrastructure, helping eliminate the complexity of provisioning resources and managing hosting.

With the preview of Azure AI Studio, there is now a unified and trusted platform to help organisations more easily explore, build, test and deploy AI apps. With Azure AI Studio, developers can build their own copilots, train their own, or ground other foundational and open-source models with data they bring.

Vector Search, a feature of Azure AI Search, is now generally available, so organisations can generate accurate experiences for every user in their generative AI applications.

The new GPT-3.5 Turbo model with a 16K token prompt length will be generally available and GPT-4 Turbo will be in public preview in Azure OpenAI Service at the end of November 2023.

GPT-4 Turbo with Vision is coming soon to preview and DALLEĀ·3 is now available in public preview in Azure Open AI Service. When used with our Azure AI Vision service, GPT-4 Turbo with Vision can understand video for generating text outputs.

New experiences in Windows

Microsoft announced a host of new AI and productivity tools for developers, including Windows AI Studio.

Nvidia AI foundry service

Aimed at helping enterprises and startups supercharge the development, tuning and deployment of their own custom AI models on Microsoft Azure, Nvidia will announce its AI foundry service running on Azure.

The Nvida AI foundry service pulls together three elements – a collection of Nvidia AI Foundation models, Nvidia NeMo framework and tools, and Nvidia DGX Cloud AI supercomputing and services – that give enterprises an end-to-end solution for creating custom generative AI models.

Businesses can then deploy their models with Nvidia AI Enterprise software on Azure to power generative AI applications, including intelligent search, summarisation and content generation.

Strengthening defenses in the era of AI

Microsoft is combining solutions in SIEM, XDR and generative AI for security into a unified security operations platform to help defenders by simplifying the complexity of their environment. It is also adding new embedded experiences of Security Copilot across the Microsoft Security portfolio.


Pictured: Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella on stage at Microsoft Ignite