Microsoft’s Nadella: AI is taking the computer age from ‘the bicycle to the steam engine’

Microsoft Corp., the presumptive leader in the generative-AI race, is ready to extend its lead.

The software giant
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on Tuesday laid out a technology roadmap, bolstered by testimonials from customers such as General Motors Co.
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at its Build developers conference. Microsoft unveiled updates to artificial-intelligence tools that let developers code more quickly, shaving the time required to create a developer box from two weeks to a matter of minutes.

“The concept of a dream machine … the human-computer symbiosis … is exciting,” Microsoft Chief Executive Satya Nadella said in a keynote speech. “We went from the bicycle to the steam engine with ChatGPT.”

“It is important that this technology reaches the world,” said Nadella, who stressed that Microsoft has built safety into its AI offerings.

Underlining his point, nearly every session at the three-day summit revolved around AI, technology’s magic word of the moment and next big thing all wrapped into one. Fittingly, the conference coincided with Nadella’s announcement that OpenAI will start using Microsoft’s Bing as the default search experience for ChatGPT. Microsoft also announced a Windows Copilot to guide AI use.

“The wave of products is taking the foundation model of ChatGPT-4 and applying it to existing Microsoft apps and reduce hallucinations (AI-generated content that is nonsensical),” Gartner analyst Jason Wong, who was pre-briefed by Microsoft, said in an interview.

Microsoft’s stake in AI pioneer OpenAI has given it a sizable advantage in the market, but recent weeks have seen a spate of announcements other companies, including Alphabet Inc.’s
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Google, Facebook parent Meta Platforms Inc.
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SAP
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ServiceNow Inc.
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and Nvidia Corp.
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and Box Inc.
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Earlier Tuesday, Adobe Inc.
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said its Adobe Firefly-powered generative AI is now available on the Photoshop app.

Nearly every tech company is enamored with AI and its potential impact on operational efficiency and sales. Generative AI could lead to productivity gains of $832 billion to $1.7 trillion for U.S. workers as the technology is adopted across industries, according to Cowen analyst John Blackledge. Companies creating generative-AI technology could capture 20% to 30% of these savings, creating a market of $166 billion to $500 billion.

AI developer tools are especially critical as major businesses shift their operations to digital platforms amid growing demand for a finite pool of developers.

Market researcher IDG estimates the global shortage of full-time developers will increase to 4 million in 2025 from 1.4 million in 2021. Meanwhile, Forrester says it takes 69 days to fill tech roles, compared to 41 days for the overall market.

“Developers have a lot of toil that can lead to burnout. Being forced to write huge boilerplates of code that are not necessarily original” is taxing, Amanda Silver, corporate vice president for the developer division at Microsoft, said in an interview. “In this AI age, we will explain how AI will address those problems but also infrastructure improvements.”

Highlighting the importance of developers, GM talked for the first time about the company’s own story and how Microsoft’s products are helping it achieve its goals.

In a panel for Monday’s financial analysts day and in a video on Tuesday, the carmaker explained how AI is “driving a faster cycle of innovation” and making the company “more software-centric” and efficient, Stacy Lynett, vice president of digital business technology at GM, said in an interview.

On Monday, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates said the technology race to win is the development of an AI agent capable of replacing search engines and online-shopping sites. “You’ll never go to a search site again,” he said at an event hosted by Goldman Sachs and SV Angel. “You’ll never go to Amazon.”

However, Gates said there was no guarantee Microsoft would be first to develop such a tool. There is a 50% chance the top player to emerge will be a startup, he said.

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