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Microsoft Azure CTO Mark Russinovich at the GeekWire Cloud Tech Summit. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

Now that the basic appeal of cloud computing has been established — compute and storage resources managed by your vendor instead of your employees — those cloud vendors are looking at higher-level services. Artificial intelligence remains one of the most promising, according to Microsoft Azure CTO Mark Russinovich.

Speaking at our GeekWire Cloud Tech Summit last week, Russinovich outlined several areas where Microsoft’s cloud division is making bets, including blockchain technology and edge computing. But, like competitors Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud, Russinovich and Azure think machine-learning services will allow application developers to build things we can’t yet conceive of that will seem obvious in five years.

“We think it’s going to transform every industry,” Russinovich said. “Companies are taking advantage of AI and ML to automate processes and get insights into operations that they didn’t have before.”

At Microsoft, there are two components to its AI strategy. Like other software-as-a-service companies, Microsoft is adding AI-related features to its products to help users find patterns in their data that were previously hidden. And given Azure’s mandate, Microsoft is developing tools and services that allow developers who work for companies without Microsoft’s immense hiring budget to take advantage of some of the best minds in this field within their own applications.

Russinovich also addressed the elephant in the room when it comes to AI: the growing distrust among the public and even some tech company employees about how AI, which is not as well understood as anyone would like you to believe, is being used. Thousands of Google employees signed a petition asking Google not to use AI technology in service of military customers, and those concerns have spread to some employees at cloud companies like Microsoft and Amazon Web Services as well.

“This is something that’s top of mind for Satya (Nadella, Microsoft’s CEO), is that we need to make sure we handle this responsibly, that we can make sure we keep bias out of AI and ML, that we make sure it’s applied for good and not for nefarious purposes,” Russinovich said.

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