Storytelling for Microsoft about research and innovation

A barge deploys an underwater data center in open water off the coast of Orkney Island, Scotland.
Microsoft’s Project Natick on deployment day off the coast of Orkney Island, Scotland. Photo by Scott Eklund/Red Box Pictures

By John Roach

When Microsoft launched an iPhone application that uses artificial intelligence to capture sharp, people-focused images with the smartphone’s built-in camera in July 2016, I wrote a story about the app for Microsoft’s news site. Since then, I’ve continued to write about research and innovation for Microsoft, mostly in the form of what the company calls journalism-style storytelling.

The gig leverages the reporting skills I honed over nearly 20 years as a science and technology journalist and has grown my skill set in the development and execution of content strategy. Along the way, I’ve learned about new technologies from the people who innovate them and shared this knowledge through stories with readers around the world.

Most of my stories for Microsoft are about AI, technology that gives machines the ability to recognize sounds, images and words, and to learn and reason in ways similar to people. While computer scientists have been working on AI for decades, the field has exploded in recent years due to advances in cloud computing, the accumulation of data and breakthroughs in methods to develop and train AI systems.

Some of my stories for Microsoft highlight AI tools that, for example, help machines conceptualize, accelerate deep learning and improve the accuracy of gene editing. Other stories focus on services that, among other things, automate machine learning, streamline the development of chatbots and teach people AI skills.

Subsets of stories highlight specific AI services such as Microsoft Translator, a platform for text and speech translation that can erode language barriers, enrich how people experience different cultures and help people who are deaf or hard of hearing learn, and AI features in products such as Bing that, for example, put numbers in perspective and predict outcomes of political elections and football games.

Another set of stories help set the stage for emerging technologies, including the next generation of intelligent assistants that leverage breakthroughs in conversational AI, and tools to embed AI on bread-crumb size computer processors that could lead to a proliferation of intelligent devices for so-called edge computing.

My stories have also helped Microsoft shape thought leadership around sensitive topics such as methods to reduce bias in facial recognition technology and ways the industry can ensure the data used to train AI systems reflect the real world, are safeguarded against unintended bias and are handled in ways that are transparent and respectful of privacy and security.

I’ve written profiles to help Microsoft mark major appointments, elections and awards as well as to tell backstories such as the relevance of principle researcher Chris White’s experience making sense of big data for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, better known as DARPA, to his work on Power BI, a business intelligence platform.

Then there are stories about unique research efforts including a bot that draws what it’s told to, an effort to improve sub-seasonal weather forecasts, the deployment of a self-sufficient underwater datacenter that’s powered by renewable energy, and an ethereal and translucent architectural structure that translates data into a choreographed dance of color and light.

More stories for Microsoft are in the works. Follow me on Twitter to know when they go live.