Microsoft is taking one small office suite near UC Berkeley, and one giant leap for AI software. The modest 27,000 square feet of space located at 1919 Shattuck Drive Avenue is highly coveted for both its proximity to the college and the rarity of available real estate in the East Bay area. Driving the decision to set up shop in locations like Silicon Valley, San Francisco, and Berkeley is what Microsoft’s CTO Kevin Scott calls their “culture of empowering others.”
Despite the initial challenges, Microsoft is moving forward with creating an open, collaborative environment for its newly founded Autonomous Systems (AS) group. The AS initiative brings together teams from Microsoft’s recently acquired Semantic Machines and Bonsai businesses. The unit will lead research into artificial intelligence technologies, with a focus on conversational AI. As principal researcher David Hall explains, the group will leverage machine learning to build applications that enable users to interact with digitally available information and services in a much more human way.
"The future of human-computer interaction is conversation – actual back and forth dialogues between you and a machine carried out in natural language," Hall said. "Think today's technology, but without having to carefully memorize commands, or spell out every single step."
Scott, MS’s chief technology officer, believes that creating an atmosphere where team members can cooperate and connect with the local academic community will cultivate relationships and advance the state of artificial intelligence. Hall echoed this idea about the importance of a shared sense of purpose in AI: “We’ve assembled an amazing team of researchers and engineers in speech and natural language processing to work on this, and we look forward to deepening our connection to Berkeley’s learning culture.”
In addition to Microsoft’s seventh floor Autonomous Systems team, the software giant is also sponsoring the Berkeley Artificial Intelligence Research (BAIR) lab. BAIR is home to Berkeley researchers spanning multiple disciplines, including computer vision, machine learning, natural language processing, planning control, and robotics. MS also supports the college's Real-Time Intelligent Secure Explainable Systems (RISE) lab, which focuses on developing machines that can make real-time, intelligent decisions in data-intensive environments. Another Microsoft beneficiary is the Simons Institute, a center for collaborative research in the field of theoretical computer science. With Microsoft's operations and Berkeley's labs housed near one another, the potential for new partnerships and shared innovation is almost limitless.
Microsoft’s move into the Shattuck Drive office complex benefits Berkeley in more than one way, however. Their new tech tenant completes the college’s goal to lease out the top three floors to help finance the building’s construction. The engineering department will occupy the eighth floor while insurance provider AAA sought out space for its innovation lab, A3Ventures, on the sixth floor.
UC Berkeley’s school of public health, graduate school of education, and the psychology department occupy the rest of the complex.