Microsoft 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 of 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 includes Bing and Office, leaves the company to focus on his recovery from a bicycle accident.
Lu, a former Yahoo engineer with dozens of patents to his name, is widely respected within the technology industry, but a rare public speaker outside of it. Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s chief executive, worked for Lu when Nadella led engineering work on the Bing search engine.
“Qi exemplifies what it means to have a deep sense of mission, purpose and authenticity in everything one does,” Nadella said in an email to employees on Thursday. “His greatest impact is the people he has inspired. I count myself among them.”
The creation of the AI unit is part of a wide-ranging 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…