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Tech Exec Tom Keane’s Take On The Future Of Artificial And Augmented Intelligence

Tom Keane is a lifelong technology leader who served as a Technology Executive and Corporate Vice President at Microsoft. He was a prominent figure in the cloud computing revolution that brought fast, secure, cost-effective, and reliable cloud services from Azure – Microsoft’s cloud services platform – to millions of users and businesses around the world. 

As Azure Global’s team leader, Tom Keane and a global engineering team helped propel the adoption of Azure by these users. Despite many initial obstacles and challenges, Azure today is spread across 300+ data centers in 65 regions and 34 countries. Working closely with governments and regulators in cyber sovereignty, privacy, compliance, and security, Tom Keane, Microsoft, and Azure were able to successfully roll out new offerings to users worldwide and for virtually every conceivable industrial need. These include everything from DevOps and application development to gaming, manufacturing, healthcare, financial services, governance, education, media, entertainment, and more.

Although Tom Keane recently left Microsoft after 21 years of service, he still maintains his work and interests in the areas of technology, data sovereignty, and AI. Speaking on AI, Tom Keane recently said: “I’m incredibly excited about what digital technology is bringing to every industry right now, be it from a manufacturing company that’s thinking about what they can do with a connected car to a financial services institution that’s thinking about what they can do with abundant compute and automated and augmented intelligence. So, it isn’t a single industry, but rather the opportunity that the digital disruption that’s occurring right now creates across the industry as a whole.”

According to Tom Keane, part of this digital disruption will be driven by artificial intelligence, or as he puts it, augmented intelligence. He says, “I think where augmented intelligence is going – especially coupled with abundant compute and the disruption that that will bring – all of it is just absolutely amazing. I look at some of the innovations that I’ve had the opportunity to be involved in at Microsoft and how our technology stacks have allowed users to take enormous volumes of information and then have our technology succinctly articulate back to them what may have been thousands of pages of information and provide them with a summary in one sentence or one paragraph that very accurately and succinctly describes that information.”

Tom Keane says that while people refer to AI as artificial intelligence, he prefers to call it augmented intelligence since, as he says, “It is a technology that can make people more productive and give people more insight. I don’t think it’s a technology that today replaces people, and it instead empowers them to be more productive.”

So, what are some of the ways that artificial and augmented intelligence are changing the world?

Artificial intelligence has rich applications in a wide range of emerging technologies, including big data, analytics, robotics, and the Internet of Things (IoT). The IoT refers to a network of “smart” Internet-connected devices, such as heat and movement sensors that can be used to track shipments, and Wi-Fi-enabled devices, such as thermostats and home appliances, that can be used to manage and optimize energy consumption.

A testament to the importance of AI is the fact that about one-third of patents received by IBM inventors in 2021 were AI-related, and companies such as Tesla, OpenAI, and Microsoft have all invested heavily and/or continue to innovate in the AI space. Tom Keane himself has worked with AI applications as part of his work at Microsoft, and he is a recognized industry expert in the areas of AI, data security, networking, and tech architecture.

With the advent of cloud computing and the success of platforms such as Azure in countless industries and verticals, it is no surprise that AI is undergoing what some call an eternal spring of innovation and development. For example, between 2012 and 2020, Tom Keane helped launch Azure’s regulatory compliance program, Azure financial services, and distinct Azure business lines for everything from gaming, retail, and media to entertainment, healthcare, life sciences, and consumer goods. Tom Keane and Microsoft also launched Azure’s energy business during that time to cater directly to Microsoft’s energy and utility clients, and one of Tom Keane’s last major Azure launches before leaving Microsoft was Azure Space. Azure Space provides Microsoft with low-orbit satellite communications, and these services – including imagery and communications services – can be offered to downstream users, businesses, and organizations. Examples include disaster response teams such as firefighters who use aerial imagery to plan and respond to actively changing wildfires and researchers and government-level decision-makers looking at the long-term impacts of, for example, rising oceans or soil erosion.

According to Tom Keane, virtually every major industry can benefit from modern applications of AI, most of which use data-trained models that “teach” computer systems to provide optimal outputs for a given set of inputs. As such, Tom Keane and industry experts expect AI to affect a wide range of industries. These include transportation (think autonomous cars) and manufacturing (AI-powered robots that can perform a wide range of tasks such as assembly and stacking) as well as healthcare (for diagnosis, virtual nurse assistants for monitoring patients and personalizing patient experiences). Also included are education (for textbook design and student assessments), media (such as Bloomberg’s use of Cyborg to interpret financial reports), and customer service (such as Google’s use of AI assistants for booking appointments and responding to customers in the form of a chatbot).

On a long enough time horizon, AI can have major impacts on everything from sustainability and climate change to global income gaps and other geopolitical and environmental issues. However, this is only likely to take place if decision-makers around the world help AI take the leap of adoption from being a nascent, emerging technology to a competitive must-have.

In that regard, Tom Keane has said that “The law is a lagging indicator, and with the speed at which technology is moving, I believe that the responsibility needs to be that technology providers are taking the lead and then ensuring that laws catch up to that technology. I don’t believe that we should govern the speed of innovation by the speed of law. And there definitely many opportunities where some of the rules and regulations were written for a different era, and they are not reflective of the way the world works today.”

What this means for industries and users across the board is that AI will have a lasting impact on us all. It also means that we must start thinking about potential issues such as privacy risks, the potential threat of AI against humanity, and how to go about addressing concerns such as data sovereignty in an increasingly connected world in which a user’s data may not reside where the user lives or where a business operates.

To explain the issue of data and digital sovereignty, Tom Keane has said: “If I’m relying on cloud computing from a third party and I’m using a service that is sitting thousands of miles away from my country, it is not sitting inside my country’s borders. Then, if something serious like COVID were to happen again, how do I know that it will continue to work? So, that massive rise certainly in digital sovereignty and just an awareness of the sovereignty of everything that people use, I think, is front and center and is definitely changing how countries approach everything that they use, and technology is a major part of that.”From the passing of privacy-focused legislation such as the GDPR, the California Privacy Rights Act (CPRA), and HIPAA, data security and privacy concerns will only continue to grow with time. However, if the success of Azure is any measure – it currently hosts or facilitates data and transactions that account for up to 85% of global GDP – the tech infrastructure, partnerships, and compliance rules developed and implemented by Tom Keane and the Azure Global team at Microsoft during his time at the company have laid the foundation for robust future growth for countless industries and verticals. As long as today’s leaders continue to adopt and then improve upon the blueprints of success developed by industry pioneers such as Tom Keane, the consensus is that we hope for every new technological iteration to bring about widespread benefits for all.

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