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Microsoft and Amazon: A Surprise Partnership in AI

Microsoft and Amazon: A Surprise Partnership in AI


Amazon and Microsoft announced in August that their voice-activated AI assistants, Alexa and Cortana, would be able to communicate with each other.  Alexa users now have access to Cortano and vice-versa.

At the time, executives said that they might partner on other projects. Now they have partnered up to release a new open-source deep-learning interface called Gluon. Google already has its own popular open-source tool called Tensorflow.

Gluon brings some key improvements to help developers. It is easy to learn and understand, and training speed does not affect performance.

Working together

Swami Sivasubramanian, Vice President for Amazon AI, believes that the Gluon interface will significantly simplify the task of developers. Microsoft’s Eric Boyd, corporate Vice President for AI and Research, has similar sentiments.

He believes that machine learning is set to transform the way we work and interact.  He sees the Gluon interface as a step in the right direction, believing it puts “the right tools in the right hands.”

Both of them feel that pooling resources and working together is a way to build technology that will benefit the wider community.

The Gluon interface 

The Gluon interface will give developers a place where they will be able to build prototypes and train machine learning models before deploying them. They will benefit from a range of neural network components that have been prebuilt and optimized.

Developers of different skill levels will be able to use the interface, using simple, concise code when building neural networks. A key innovation is that training won’t affect the underlying machine’s speed, so performance will not be sacrificed.

Alexa and Cortana communicate

Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezons, believes that multiple intelligence agents with access to different skill areas and data sets should be able to complement and strengthen one another. They will complement each other in such a way as to offer customers the most helpful, all-round experience possible.

Apparently, Microsoft and Amazon have been working together for the past year to make their voice-activated AI assistants, Cortana and Alexa communicate with each other. In August they signed an agreement whereby Alexa users would have access to Cortana and vice versa.

The Alexa user simply has to say “Alexa, open Cortana” to gain access and the Cortana user asks Cortana to open Alexa.  This means that Amazon customers could get Alexa to ask Cortana for accessing its special features like the work calendar. They would be able to access email, book a meeting or be reminded of a commitment.  Microsoft customers could use Cortana to ask Alexa to control smart home devices or order Amazon products.

All companies with virtual assistants consider it a priority to get customers to use them in as many places as possible, from fridges to vehicles.

There is a major battle for dominance of this market.  Are Amazon and Microsoft open to teaming up with Google and it’s Google Assistant or Apple and its Siri? Apparently, this has not been discussed yet although they appear open to the possibility.

Benefits and Limitations of the partnership

The partnership does give both companies access to more capabilities in a field where there is fierce competition. Both Microsoft and Amazon are very strong in certain areas, as reflected in their voice assistants.

Cortana is more about business users and productivity while Alexa has more of an entertainment and ecommerce focus.

At present, the virtual assistants are more complementary than competitive but what happens when they both develop?  At some stage, dividing up responsibilities may become less obvious.

An obvious limitation is that Cortana and Alexa live in PCs and peripherals whereas Google Assistant and Siri know exactly where you are and what you want every second of your day due to Google and Apple’s dominance when it comes to mobile.

The latest collaboration between Microsoft and Amazon and the launch of Gluon shows that the partnership has potential. Gluon provides an opportunity for developers to hit the ground running.



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