Crowded cloud: Microsoft

20. July 2017

Date: 20-07-2017
Source: The Economist

Today the world’s largest software company reports earnings for the second quarter. Its share price is at an all-time high, elevated by expectations that the chief executive, Satya Nadella, will continue to transform the company and develop new business lines.

Mr Nadella, who is enthusiastic about artificial intelligence (AI), wants Microsoft to become an “AI-first” firm. He has pumped more time and money into Azure, its cloud-computing business, hopeful that it will account for much of the firm’s future growth.

But the company faces stiff competition from deep-pocketed rivals, such as Amazon and Google. Jefferies, an investment bank, reckons Azure will chalk up around $5bn in sales in 2017, or 21% of the market—an impressive sum but far less than Amazon Web Services, with 71%. Investors will be looking for clues as to how much new cloud business Microsoft has won. When expectations are great, even good results can disappoint.


What will business technology look like tomorrow?

13. July 2017

Date: 13-07-2017
Source: The Economist
Subject: A new way to work

Two experts from MIT analyse the business implications of our digital future

Machine, Platform, Crowd: Harnessing our Digital Future. By Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson. W.W. Norton; 402 pages; $28.95 and £22.99.

IN 2014 Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology published “The Second Machine Age”. The book was a balanced portrait of how new digital technologies were poised to improve society, even as they increased unemployment and depressed wages. In their latest work, “Machine, Platform, Crowd”, the authors seek to explain the business implications behind these developments.

Mr McAfee and Mr Brynjolfsson believe that the latest phase of computers and the internet have created three shifts in how work happens. The first is artificial intelligence (AI): a move from man to machine. In the past people worked with computers and, at the same time, were augmented by them: what the authors call the “standard partnership”. But that model is breaking down as computers improve and take more control.

You need only look at self-driving cars, online language translation and Amazon’s prototype cashierless shops to see that something big is happening. Digital technologies used to be applied to information—first numbers and text, and, later, music and video. Now, the digital technologies are invading the physical world.

For instance, designing a “heat exchanger”, a part in appliances like refrigerators, means balancing many different specifications and constraints. Humans settle for one that works well enough because to find the optimal one is too hard. But new “generative design” means AI-infused software can run zillions of tiny permutations to find the best possible design—one that a human might not come up with. And with 3D printing, those designs might be shared, modified and manufactured anywhere. Read the rest of this entry »