“Microsoft Monday” takes a look back at the past week of news related to Microsoft. This week, “Microsoft Monday” includes details about a potential Yahoo deal, the “Holoportation” research project, the Surface Hub progress, the Tay chatbot catastrophe, the Health app update, the Visual Studio Productivity Power Tools becoming open source and the new Minecraft Story Mode Episode 5 coming tomorrow.
Microsoft To Meet With Private Equity Companies About Potential Yahoo! Deal
Microsoft executives are reportedly in talks with Yahoo! investors about potentially providing funds to acquire the Sunnyvale-based Internet company, according to sources with Reuters. The talks are in the preliminary stages. Microsoft has an interest in Yahoo! because it has search and advertising agreements with the Internet company. Yahoo! is expected to be auctioning off its core Internet businesses, including Yahoo! Search, Yahoo! Mail, Yahoo! Finance and Yahoo! News.
Recently, investment company Starboard Value LP has been soliciting support from Yahoo! shareholders to get rid of the whole board including CEO Marissa Mayer. Back in 2008, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer attempted to push for a $45 billion acquisition of Yahoo!
Microsoft Research Team Working On “Holoportation” Research Project
The Microsoft Research team is using the HoloLens to work on a research project called “Holoportation.” Microsoft Research described “Holoportation” as being a new type of 3D capture technology that allows high-quality 3D models of people to be reconstructed and transmitted anywhere in the world in real time.
Essentially, Microsoft’s research team is able to create a live hologram of a person to be placed in another room. Using mixed reality displays like the HoloLens, the “Holoportation” technology lets users “see, hear and interact with remote participants in 3D as if they are actually present in the same physical space. Communicating and interacting with remote users becomes as natural as face-to-face communication.”
Here is a video demo of “Holoportation”:
Microsoft Has Started Shipping The Pricey Surface Hubs
Microsoft has delayed the release of its Surface Hub touch-screens twice, but now it is finally shipping. The Surface Hubs are available in two sizes — a 55-inch version and a 4K 84-inch version. The 55-inch costs $8,999 and the 84-inch costs $21,999.
The Windows 10 powered Surface Hub supports 100 points of touch input and digital pens, according to The Verge. The Surface Hubs have Core i5/i7 processors, 128GB SSD and 8GB RAM. And the 84-inch has an NVIDIA Quadro graphics card. The Surface Hubs also support Bluetooth and NFC. And the Hubs also have a dual webcam with noise-cancelling microphones and a bezel for teleconferences.
Microsoft Shuts Down Tay, An AI-Powered Chatbot That Became Racist And Misogynist
One of the biggest Microsoft stories this past week was about Tay, an artificial intelligence powered chatbot that said racist and misogynist comments on Twitter, Groupie and Kik. Microsoft quickly shut it down after the project went haywire.
Tay was originally described as “Microsoft’s A.I. fam the internet that’s got zero chill!” and it was supposed to talk like a teenage girl. Within 24 hours, “TayTweets” started making racist and misogynist comments.
“Unfortunately, in the first 24 hours of coming online, a coordinated attack by a subset of people exploited a vulnerability in Tay. Although we had prepared for many types of abuses of the system, we had made a critical oversight for this specific attack,” said Microsoft in a blog post. “As a result, Tay tweeted wildly inappropriate and reprehensible words and images. We take full responsibility for not seeing this possibility ahead of time. We will take this lesson forward as well as those from our experiences in China, Japan and the U.S. Right now, we are hard at work addressing the specific vulnerability that was exposed by the attack on Tay.”
Then Microsoft shut down Tay and apologized for the incident:
“We are deeply sorry for the unintended offensive and hurtful tweets from Tay, which do not represent who we are or what we stand for, nor how we designed Tay. Tay is now offline and we’ll look to bring Tay back only when we are confident we can better anticipate malicious intent that conflicts with our principles and values.”
Before Tay was shut down, the chatbot tweeted over 96,000 times. Tay is not the first artificial intelligence application that Microsoft released. Microsoft’s AI-powered chatbot Xiaoice became popular in China and is used by over 40 million people.
Tay may sound like it could be a setback for artificial intelligence as a whole, but Google has been having better luck with its AlphaGo AI-powered application. AlphaGo became the first Computer Go program to defeat a professional human Go player without handicaps on a 19×19 board.
Tay was supposed to tell jokes to users and comment on pictures it received. Even though Microsoft deleted most of the tweets, a website called Socialhax.com posted many screenshots of Tay’s tweets.
It has been pointed out that the failure of the Tay project supported the Godwin’s law Internet adage. Godwin’s law says that the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler becomes more likely as an online discussion grows longer.
What’s the lesson here? Tay serves as a lesson that it is important for engineers to design a system with filters in place.
Microsoft Updates Health App With New Social Features
Microsoft has updated its Health app so that you can compete with your Facebook friends in terms of exercise goals. When you connect your Microsoft Health and Facebook accounts, you can see your friends who also have connected accounts. Then you can set up Social Challenges and monitor Leaderboards. The Social Challenges supports challenges for steps, cardio minutes, longest runs, bike rides, etc. Those challenges are expected to be accomplished in one, three, five or seven days. Even if you do not have a Microsoft Band wearable, you can still compete with each other using the Microsoft Health app on iOS, Android or Windows Phone.
Microsoft Is Publishing Numbers About “Revenge Porn” Removal
Microsoft has recently started publishing its figures related to the removal of “revenge porn,” according to Forbes contributor Emma Woollacott. Revenge porn is when sexually explicit content of someone who has not given their consent for the images or videos to be shared is uploaded publicly.
Last week, Microsoft published its Transparency Report and revealed that it received 537 requests to remove links to revenge porn photos or videos from the Bing search results, OneDrive or Xbox Live. And Microsoft complied with 338 (63%) of those requests.
“In cases where we have not yet accepted a request, it is usually either because we have asked for more information to be able to make a determination on the request, or because the content in question does not contain nudity, identify the victim in the image, or otherwise meet generally accepted definitions of ‘revenge porn,’” stated Steve Lippman, Microsoft’s director of corporate responsibility.
The removal rate of “revenge porn” is rather paltry when you compare it to copyright infringement removal requests. Microsoft received requests to remove about 60 million URLs and Microsoft complied with 98% of those requests.
Microsoft Is Preparing To Release A Universal Windows Skype App
Last year, Microsoft replaced the Skype Windows client with three separate apps, which was a surprising move. However, Microsoft is preparing to launch a new Universal Windows Platform app for Skype that would consolidate the calling, messaging and video features into one place, according to ZDNet. The Skype Universal Windows Platform (UWP) app will be released in preview mode for Windows Insiders soon. And eventually, Microsoft will offer the UWP app in the Windows Store.
Microsoft will continue developing the three separate Skype Messaging, Calling and Video apps for certain devices. And the Skype team will continue gathering feedback to determine the best course of action between the three separate apps and the Universal Windows Platform Skype app.
Microsoft Reportedly Invests Millions Into A Startup That Turned Down An Acquisition
Microsoft reportedly offered to buy Mesosphere for $150 million last year, but the deal was turned down. Mesosphere is known for developing a data center operating system that makes it easier to organize cloud machines.
Mesosphere has recently announced it has raised $73.5 million in funding led by Hewlett Packard Enterprise and Microsoft was listed as a “significant participant,” according to Business Insider. Mesosphere has now raised $122 million in funding with a valuation of over $1 billion. Mesosphere’s Data Center Operating System (DCOS) is used by many large customers including Verizon and Apple.
Tekken Tag Tournament 2 And Dark Souls Now Available On Xbox One Through Backwards Compatibility Program
This past week, the Xbox One has received some new games as part of the backwards compatibility rollout. Now the original Dark Souls and Tekken Tag Tournament 2 has is available through backwards compatibility service. And the backwards compatible version of Dark Souls will be available for free for consumers that pre-order a copy of Dark Souls 3.
Paul Allen Launches The Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group Fund
Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen has announced this past week that he will be committing $100 million to launch the Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group. The initiative focuses on exploring biosciences and advancing science. The first funded projects are known as the new Allen Distinguished Investigators (ADI) and the Allen Discovery Centers which are located at Stanford University and Tufts University. The Allen Distinguished Investigators focuses on “exceptional creativity and catalytic impact” and the Allen Discovery Centers will be based on “compass-guided research.”
“To make the kind of transformational advances we seek and thus shape a better future, we must invest in scientists willing to pursue what some might consider out-of-the-box approaches at the very edges of knowledge,” said Allen in a statement. “This of course entails a risk of setbacks and failures. But without risk, there is rarely significant reward, and unless we try truly novel approaches, we may never find the answers we seek.”
Microsoft Power BI Hits 5 Million Subscribers
Last week, Microsoft announced that its cloud-based business intelligence service has hit 5 million subscribers. Microsoft is also adding several new features to the Power BI service, including an option to import data from an Excel spreadsheet to be converted into live-updating visualizations including graphs and charts. The ability to use an Excel connector to pin live-updating data from the Excel desktop app to a Power BI dashboard will be added tomorrow. Power BI will also gain role-level security for cloud models and tenant-level usage reports will show how people are using different features.
Microsoft Makes Visual Studio Productivity Power Tools Open Source
Microsoft recently said it would be releasing SQL Server for Linux soon. This past week, Microsoft also announced it would be making Visual Studio Productivity Power Tools open source on GitHub said ZDNet. This news follows Microsoft announcement several weeks ago about the integration of Visual Studio with Eclipse Integrated Development Environment (IDE).
The Visual Studio Productivity Power Tools were released in 2010 and it helps improve productivity for developers. The Power Tools were downloaded over half a million times across several versions. And some of the features built into the Power Tools were actually merged into Visual Studio.
“Minecraft Story Mode” Episode 5 Arrives Tomorrow
Mojang will be releasing “Minecraft Story Mode” Episode 5: Order Up tomorrow. Forbes contributor Andy Robertson said that Episode 5 sets up the context for the upcoming three chapters, which are add-ons to the season. This means that players will only need to have the first episodes of Minecraft: Story Mode to purchase and play episodes 6, 7 and 8.
Episode 5: Order Up will be available on PCs, Macs, Xbox One, PS4, Xbox 360, PS3, iOS and Android starting tomorrow. In the game, Jesse and friends go to an abandoned temple that has mysterious treasures. But Jesse and friends are ambushed by Ocelot Aiden and they find themselves in a new world called Sky City.