Microsoft CTO: Artificial Intelligence frees executives to innovate

1871 fireside chat April 22, 2020 with Microsoft CTO Kevin Scott
Microsoft chief technology officer Kevin Scott, upper right, spoke Wednesday in a virtual fireside chat moderated by Mike Gamson of Relativity and 1871 CEO Betsy Ziegler.

Leave it to the chief technology officer of one of the world largest companies to encourage small companies to innovate using Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning.

As the coronavirus pandemic and stay-at-home orders put more emphasis on technology, larger players like Microsoft also are tapping Artificial Intelligence to speed up routine tasks.

Artificial Intelligence is going to be hugely important in us helping to manage all aspects of our COVID-19 response. We partnered with the CDC to build a diagnostic box, said Kevin Scott, chief technology officer at Microsoft Corp. who spoke Wednesday in a fireside chat webinar presented by 1871, a innovation center for small companies in Chicago. The event was moderated by Mike Gamson, CEO of Relativity, a tech company where Scott serves as a director. Betsy Ziegler, CEO of 1871, also participated. 1871 and the Illinois Technology Association are teaming up on a series of online events.

The automated diagnostic screening many health care systems are using to determine who should be tested for COVID-19 is an example of how Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning are being used to improve or save lives, he said. Artificial Intelligence also drives Cortana and other automated systems like the questionnaires health care systems are asking patients to complete before lining up for COVID-19 tests.

While some regard Artificial Intelligence as a threat to full employment, Scott said computer automation that handles mundane tasks frees up humans for problem-solving and other important work. Ideally, it leads to innovation, he suggests in his book, Reprogramming the American Dream.”

Technology in general is automating tasks, he said. It freed me up to do more important work. It a failure of the imagination to believe humans become obsolete as AI automates a repetitive task.

We need entrepreneurs and businesses to be created at a much higher rate than they are right now, Scott said.

While next month unemployment figures might be frightening, Scott takes a long-term view. Demographic trends “ namely the graying of the population “ will require greater productivity. The entire demographic world is going through a shift. The population is getting older, he said, noting Western Europe, the United States, China and Japan all face a growing population of retirees.

We re going to have more retired workers who are not going to be members of the workforce and who are going to be in less good health, he said. This will drive a need for greater productivity through technology and automation.

But he acknowledged the ethics of some new applications should be considered and discussed.

There a huge amount of work on ethics and bias and fairness, decisions we all have to make, he said. Technologies are all going to have to do a great range of things. We re going to have to be asking people not what we can do but what should we do. I believe when we re talking about the administration of justice, you have to have human beings in the loop.

The pace of technological innovation has accelerated since Scott first explored computer science as a youth. He said tinkering with a home-made device connected to a television when he was young set him on the path to studying computer science. Scott said he remembers spending six months to write code that would complete a set of tasks, while today a high school student could do the same in about two days.

— Ann Meyer