This week, Microsoft announced big plans to throw the power of artificial intelligence and cloud computing technology behind the world’s biggest environmental problems. The company promised to devote $50 million in cloud and artificial intelligence services to companies working to solve the world’s most challenging environmental issues.

While these types of philanthropic programs are a generous way of showing concern for issues a company cares about, it also has the happy outcome of showing that Azure cloud services can handle some of the world’s hardest problems — and that’s a happy outcome for Microsoft.

In a blog post announcing the program, the company stated its reasoning behind the creating it: “At Microsoft, we believe artificial intelligence is a game changer. Our approach as a company is focused on democratizing AI so its features and capabilities can be put to use by individuals and organizations around the world to improve real-world outcomes.”

 The thinking goes if it can solve these problems, it could solve your company’s problems too and provide a variety of case studies on how to use the Azure cloud for actual artificial intelligence projects. What’s more, as they layer on new AI algorithms, they will make the latest technology available to the program participants.

Expanding the program

Microsoft is far from alone in trying to help customers solve tough problems using AI, but it is the only one ponying up $50 million in grants. The idea is to provide small seed investments in promising projects around the world.

Microsoft believes that using artificial intelligence and the power of the cloud, it could eventually lead to scaling some of the more promising ideas beyond the experimental stage. If the companies who are participating use Microsoft cloud services at the beginning, chances are, as they grow more successful they will maintain loyalty to the company that gave them a jump start financially and stay on the platform they are comfortable using.

They have already awarded 35 grants in 10 countries in an earlier stage of the program and they are seeing projects that involve climate, water, agriculture, and biodiversity.

Rivals Amazon, Google, IBM, and just about every major cloud vendor are also working on algorithms to simplify and democratize artificial intelligence for their customers. Last year, Salesforce introduce Einstein and Adobe introduced Sensei, as even the SaaS vendors got into the act.  

Microsoft believes that it can use technology to help clean up the mess created by the previous generation’s approaches. Whether it’s completely altruistic or a way to generate business and create loyalty from a new generation of startups, it still ends up providing a nice program for participants to test their ideas — and that’s ultimately a positive step.

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Photo by Kevin Gill on Flickr. Used under CC by 2.0 license.

Posted by Ron Miller

Ron Miller is a freelance technology reporter and blogger. He is contributing editor at EContent Magazine and enterprise reporter at TechCrunch.

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