Microsoft says it has created a 5,000-person engineering and research team focused on artificial intelligence, an effort to reposition the company to capitalize on the rapid growth in software aided by machine-learning algorithms. The move comes as Qi Lu, a longtime Microsoft engineering leader who was most recently executive vice president of the Applications and Services Group that included Bing and Office, leaves the company to focus on his recovery from a bicycle accident.
“Qi exemplifies what it means to have a deep sense of mission, purpose and authenticity in everything one does,” Chief Executive Satya Nadella said in an email to employees. “His greatest impact is the people he has inspired. I count myself among them.”
The creation of the AI unit is part of an effort to make smarter software integral to Microsoft products, in applications like the Cortana voice-activated assistant and algorithms tied to the Office suite designed to help workers analyze how they spend their time.
Such tools occupied much of Microsoft’s time at its Ignite information technology conference in Atlanta this week. In a speech there, Nadella compared the coming explosion in artificial intelligence technologies to milestones like the invention of the printing press and the internet.
The new group will “enable Microsoft to create truly intelligent systems and products,” Harry Shum, the executive vice president in charge of the new group, said in a blog post. “I believe we have some of the best AI talent on the planet, and we’ll continue to attract even more.”
Under Shum, the new team will combine the engineering groups working on Microsoft’s Bing search engine and Cortana digital assistant, as well as the 1,000-person Microsoft Research division Shum had led previously.
With Lu’s departure, the remainder of his team — chiefly groups working on Office and Skype — will be led by Rajesh Jha and rebranded the Office Product Group.
The two new units make four major engineering teams at Microsoft.
The other two are the Windows and Devices Group led by Terry Myerson, which includes Windows, Surface and Xbox, and Scott Guthrie’s Cloud and Enterprise Group, which encompasses Microsoft’s developer-tools, cloud-computing platform, and some business applications. After his recovery, Lu will serve as a technology adviser to Nadella and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, Nadella said.