Microsoft to Mine LinkedIn Data, Advance Machine Learning

Microsoft just paid $26.2 billion to buy LinkedIn and its treasure trove of information about the business social network’s 105.5 million monthly active users. That enormous quantity of data will drive machine learning to create and evolve products as well as anticipate customer needs. Microsoft isn’t alone in going after large repositories of data for that very reason. As Microsoft, Apple and Alphabet exploit the possibilities of machine learning, they all are competing for the information necessary to find actionable patterns.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella says machine learning is “what this next wave of technology innovation is all about… But in order to be able to do that, you need data, and LinkedIn represents that.”

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Rather than replace human performance with artificial intelligence, says Forrester Research analyst Jeffrey Hammond, Microsoft seeks to create “augmented intelligence.” “It adds a whole lot of rich contextual information,” he explains.

For example, Microsoft’s SharePoint collaboration and networking program has been tweaked to “analyze lists of meeting attendees, frequent email correspondents, collaborators on documents, and the like,” and then deliver useful information to the end user. The company intends to use LinkedIn data to feed SharePoint, the Office productivity suite or even Dynamics sales tools, which can be synergized in many ways with its digital assistant Cortana.

Apple has its own version, with its assistant Siri now capable of working with non-Apple apps. Facebook offers its concierge, called M; IBM’s Watson is studying medical data with the goal of aiding in faster, more accurate diagnoses; Amazon’s Echo is the “ears and voice” for virtual assistant Alexa; and Google plans to debut Google Home, an Echo competitor. Apple also showed off a plan to use “advanced computer vision” to let an iPhone identify family and friends in photos more easily.

“The next big step will be for the very concept of the ‘device’ to fade away,” says Google chief executive Sundar Pichai. “Over time, the computer itself — whatever its form factor — will be an intelligent assistant helping you through your day,” As tech giants plumb data, however, they’ll have to be careful not to cross the privacy line.

“How do they use that data to provide a truly convenient experience without crossing the border into creepy ones?” asks Hammond.