Artificial Intelligence has already begun to permeate many aspects of our digital lives, from the simple smart replies in email applications, to the complex requests handled by chatbots that man the front lines of many businesses’ customer service arms. One company at the forefront of this technological revolution is Microsoft, and it has its sights squarely set on the GCC as a prime proving ground for its advancements in the fields of artificial intelligence and machine learning.
Although you may not know it, you are likely already familiar with Microsoft’s particular brand of AI. In 2017, the company helped Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) develop Rammas, a virtual assistant on the utility’s website. Built using the natural language processing (NLP) on Microsoft’s Cognitive Services platform, the chatbot is able to communicate in both Arabic and English, answering customer queries 24-7, with no need for breaks or downtime.
This allowed DEWA to free up precious man hours for its employees to handle more complex customer concerns, rather than simple, repetitive tasks. In its first six weeks of operation, Rammas handled more than 87,000 enquiries and was well received by customers. DEWA was similarly able to direct customers to its website for support rather than requiring them to visit a service centre in person.
“The Gulf region has long led the world in the innovative application of technology. With AI, this attitude can be seen in a recently conducted Microsoft survey of 1,000 GCC organisations, which cited that over 29 per cent of enterprises are planning to Adopt AI and AI embedded use cases including predictive analytics, robotics and machine automation,” stated Necip Ozyucel, director of Cloud and Enterprise at Microsoft Gulf.
“At Microsoft, our goal is to make AI available to everyone. And we’re committed to making sure that our AI tools and technologies earn the trust of all.”
Earlier this year, Microsoft hosted the company’s inaugural Hackfest, the first of its kind in the Gulf region – where customers from both, public and private sector were invited to work with Microsoft’s engineers and data scientists to solve real-world problems using the AI tools.
Organisations that attended the Microsoft AI Hackfest included Dubai Municipality, DMCC (Dubai Multi Commodities Centre), MBC Group, The UAE University, du, Al Jaber Engineering & Contracting (ALEC) and Abu Dhabi’s Masdar.
“The event demonstrated the power of AI technologies to leading IT decision makers and gave them an opportunity to experience capabilities such as machine-learning, advanced analytics, and natural-language processing,” said Ozyucel.
“We are also strong proponents of the democratisation of AI. We are, and will continue to partner with governments and their regulators – across MEA and beyond – to ensure that everyone has access to its benefits. Microsoft AI professionals also gain exactly the kind of skills needed to function in humanity’s smart future and our platforms like the Microsoft Cloud Society and support for initiatives such as the One Million Arab Coders and AI Summer Camp, are preparing the region’s engineers and innovators of tomorrow,” he added.
Looking towards the future in the GCC, Microsoft is in the process of developing a similar virtual assistant for Kuwait Finance House (KFH). Built on the same underlying technology as Rammas, this chatbot will be the first of its kind for the country’s banking sector and will be tailored to handle customer queries accordingly. Microsoft will also be integrating the KHF bot with the company’s advanced analytics platform allowing for greater insight into the data generated.
“We all need to work together to ensure that AI is developed in a responsible manner so that people will trust it and deploy it broadly, both to increase business and personal productivity and to help solve societal problems,” said Ozyucel.
“We look forward to working with governments and technology companies with a shared understanding of the ethical and societal implication of AI.”
In addition to the strategic partnerships, initiatives and collaboration, Microsoft will continue to play a “pivotal role” in helping the region to adopt AI and drive digital transformation across all sectors.