Microsoft launches new AI applications for customer service and sales

Like virtually every other major tech company, Microsoft is currently on a mission to bring machine learning to all of its applications. It’s no surprise then that it’s also bringing ‘AI’ to its highly profitable Dynamics 365 CRM products. A year ago, the company introduced its first Dynamics 365 AI solutions and today it’s expanding this portfolio with the launch of three new products: Dynamics 365 AI for Sales, Customer Service and Market Insights. “Many people, when they talk about CRM, or ERP of old, they referred to them as systems of oppression, they captured data,” said Alysa Taylor, Microsoft corporate VP for business applications and industry. “But they didn’t provide any value back to the end user — and what that end user really needs is a system of empowerment, not oppression.” It’s no secret that few people love their CRM systems (except for maybe a handful of
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Answering its critics, Google loosens reins on AMP project

Accelerated Mobile Pages, or AMP, has been a controversial project since its debut. The need for the framework has been clear: the payloads of mobile pages can be just insane, what with layers and layers of images, Javascript, ad networks, and more slowing down page rendering time and costing users serious bandwidth on metered plans. Yet, the framework has been aggressively foisted on the community by Google, which has backed the project not just with technical talent, but also by making algorithmic changes to its search results that have essentially mandated that pages comply with the AMP project’s terms — or else lose their ranking on mobile searches. Even more controversially, as part of making pages faster, the AMP project uses caches of pages on CDNs — which are hosted by Google (and also Cloudflare now). That meant that Google’s search results would direct a user
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Ultimate.ai nabs $1.3M for a customer service AI focused on non-English markets

For customer service, Ultimate.ai‘s thesis is it’s not humans or AI but humans and AI. The Helsinki- and Berlin-based startup has built an AI-powered suggestion engine that, once trained on clients’ data-sets, is able to provide real-time help to (human) staff dealing with customer queries via chat, email and social channels. So the AI layer is intended to make the humans behind the screens smarter and faster at responding to customer needs — as well as freeing them up from handling basic queries to focus on more complex issues. AI-fuelled chatbots have fast become a very crowded market, with hundreds of so called ‘conversational AI’ startups all vying to serve the customer service cause. Ultimate.ai stands out by merit of having focused on non-English language markets, says co-founder and CEO Reetu Kainulainen. This is a consequence of the business being founded in Finland, whose language belongs to a
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Why the Pentagon’s $10 billion JEDI deal has cloud companies going nuts

By now you’ve probably heard of the Defense Department’s massive winner-take-all $10 billion cloud contract dubbed the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (or JEDI for short).
Star Wars references aside, this contract is huge, even by government standards.The Pentagon would like a single cloud vendor to build out its enterprise cloud, believing rightly or wrongly that this is the best approach to maintain focus and control of their cloud strategy. Department of Defense (DOD) spokesperson Heather Babb tells TechCrunch the department sees a lot of upside by going this route. “Single award is advantageous because, among other things, it improves security, improves data accessibility and simplifies the Department’s ability to adopt and use cloud services,” she said. Whatever company they choose to fill this contract, this is about modernizing their computing infrastructure and their combat forces for a world of IoT, artificial intelligence and big data analysis, while consolidating some
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Cryptocurrency mining attacks using leaked NSA hacking tools are still highly active a year later

It’s been over a year since highly classified exploits built by the National Security Agency were stolen and published online. One of the tools, dubbed EternalBlue, can covertly break into almost any Windows machine around the world. It didn’t take long for hackers to start using the exploits to run ransomware on thousands of computers, grinding hospitals and businesses to a halt. Two separate attacks in as many months used WannaCry and NotPetya ransomware, which spread like wildfire. Once a single computer in a network was infected, the malware would also target other devices on the network. The recovery was slow and cost companies hundreds of millions in damages. Yet, more than a year since Microsoft released patches that slammed the backdoor shut, almost a million computers and networks are still unpatched and vulnerable to attack. Although WannaCry infections have slowed, hackers are still using the publicly accessible NSA exploits
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It’s the end of crypto as we know it and I feel fine

Watching the current price madness is scary. Bitcoin is falling and rising in $500 increments with regularity and Ethereum and its attendant ICOs are in a seeming freefall with a few “dead cat bounces” to keep things lively. What this signals is not that crypto is dead, however. It signals that the early, elated period of trading whose milestones including the launch of Coinbase and the growth of a vibrant (if often shady) professional ecosystem is over. Crypto still runs on hype. Gemini announcing a stablecoin, the World Economic Forum saying something hopeful, someone else saying something less hopeful – all of these things and more are helping define the current market. However, something else is happening behind the scenes that is far more important. As I’ve written before, the socialization and general acceptance of entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial pursuits is a very recent thing. In the old days –
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Microsoft acquires Lobe, a drag-and-drop AI tool

Microsoft today announced that is has acquired Lobe, a startup that lets you build machine learning models with the help of a simple drag-and-drop interface. Microsoft plans to use Lobe, which only launched into beta earlier this year, to build upon its own efforts to make building AI models easier, though, for the time being, Lobe will operate as before. “As part of Microsoft, Lobe will be able to leverage world-class AI research, global infrastructure, and decades of experience building developer tools,” the team writes. “We plan to continue developing Lobe as a standalone service, supporting open source standards and multiple platforms.” Lobe was co-founded by Mike Matas, who previously worked on the iPhone and iPad, as well as Facebook’s Paper and Instant Articles products. The other co-founders are Adam Menges and Markus Beissinger. In addition to Lobe, Microsoft also recently bought Bonsai.ai, a deep
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Security flaw in ‘nearly all’ modern PCs and Macs exposes encrypted data

Most modern computers, even devices with disk encryption, are vulnerable to a new attack that can steal sensitive data in a matter of minutes, new research says. In new findings published Wednesday, F-Secure said that none of the existing firmware security measures in every laptop it tested “does a good enough job” of preventing data theft. F-Secure principal security consultant Olle Segerdahl told TechCrunch that the vulnerabilities put “nearly all” laptops and desktops — both Windows and Mac users — at risk. The new exploit is built on the foundations of a traditional cold boot attack, which hackers have long used to steal data from a shut-down computer. Modern computers overwrite their memory when a device is powered down to scramble the data from being read. But Segerdahl and his colleague Pasi Saarinen found a way to disable the overwriting process, making a cold boot attack possible again. “It takes some
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The Boring Company proves life can be a video game

The Boring Company just posted a video on Twitter showing its latest digging machine can be controlled by an Xbox One controller. Because, if you’re going to dig holes, why not make it a bit of fun? Software makes it easy to map PC controls to an Xbox pad. Instead of developing and fabricating a custom controller, using an Xbox gamepad is a cost-effective alternative for a lot of organizations. The military services agree. In its latest subs the US Navy tapped the Xbox 360 controller to maneuver submarine periscopes and the Army’s anti-drone laser uses an Xbox controller. They’re used to control robots and drones, too. The reasoning is simple: A lot of research goes into game controllers. Microsoft reportedly spent over $100 million on the Xbox One controller, which, is just an updated version of the Xbox 360 controller. More than that, these controllers, whether of the
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Microsoft’s next big Surface event is October 2

’Tis the season for hardware events. First Apple, then Google and now Microsoft all have big announcements on tap for the next month or so. Details are light on this one. Same can be said for the invite, which is just a Microsoft logo and the words “a moment of your time.”

The event will most likely be focused on Surface hardware. The Surface Go was just announced a couple of weeks back, so we can tick that one off the list. A refresh to some of the existing products certainly seems plausible — the Surface Pro and Studio, among others, could certainly use them.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see some new additions to the line, either. Given that the company’s butting up against Apple and Google events, it’s going to have to put on a big show to cut through noise here. Though the long rumored Surface

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PagerDuty raises $90M to wake up more engineers in the middle of the night

PagerDuty, the popular service that helps businesses monitor their tech stacks, manage incidents and alert engineers when things go sideways, today announced that it has raised a $90 million Series D round at a valuation of $1.3 billion. With this, PagerDuty, which was founded in 2009, has now raised well over $170 million. The round was led by T. Rowe Price Associates and Wellington Management . Accel, Andreessen Horowitz and Bessemer Venture Partners participated. Given the leads in this round, chances are that PagerDuty is gearing up for an IPO. “This capital infusion allows us to continue our investments in innovation that leverages artificial intelligence and machine learning, enabling us to help our customers transform their companies and delight their customers,” said Jennifer Tejada, CEO at PagerDuty in today’s announcement. “From a business standpoint, we can strengthen our investment in and development of our people, our most valuable asset,
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BMW launches a personal voice assistant for its cars

At TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2018, BMW today premiered its digital personal assistant for its cars, the aptly named BMW Intelligent Personal Assistant. But you won’t have to say “Hey, BMW Intelligent Personal Assistant” to wake it up. You can give it any name you want. The announcement comes only a few weeks after BMW also launched its integration with Amazon’s Alexa, but it’s worth stressing that these are complementary technologies. BMW’s own assistant is all about your car, while its partnerships with Amazon and also Microsoft enables other functions that aren’t directly related to your driving experience. “BMW’s Personal Assistant gets to know you over time with each of your voice commands and by using your car,” BMW’s senior vice president Digital Products and Services, Dieter May, said. “It gets better and better every single day.” Sticking with the precedents of Microsoft’s, Google’s and Amazon’s assistants, the voice
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You can now use Alexa and Cortana to control your Xbox

You can now control the Xbox from Alexa and Cortana. Microsoft announced his morning it’s introducing a new way to interact with Xbox One using voice commands, by way of an Xbox Skill that works with both Alexa and Cortana, across platforms. The skill will allow users to launch games, adjust the volume, start and stop their broadcasts to Mixer, capture screenshots and more. For example, players will be able to say to their Echo speaker, “Alexa, start Rocket League,” and the console would power on, sign them in, and launch the game. To use the new feature with Alexa, players will first have to sign in with their Amazon account then link their Microsoft account to the skill. With Cortana, users will instead have to first sign into the Xbox they want to control, then sign in with their Microsoft account to link the skill on their Windows 10
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Microsoft commits to fixing custom apps broken by Windows 10 upgrades

Microsoft wants to make life easier for enterprise customers. Starting today, it is committing to fix any custom applications that may break as a result of updates to Windows 10 or the Office 365 product suite. Most large companies have a series of custom applications that play a crucial role inside their organizations. When you update Windows and Office 365, Murphy’s Law of updates says one or more of those applications is going to break. Up until this announcement when that inevitably happened, it was entirely the problem of the customer. Microsoft has taken a huge step today by promising to help companies understand which applications will likely break when you install updates, and working to help fix them if it ultimately happens anyway. One of the reasons the company can afford to be so generous is they have data that suggests the vast majority of applications won’t break when
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The Xbox Adaptive Controller goes on sale today and is also now part of the V&A museum’s collection

In an important move for inclusion in the gaming community, the Xbox Adaptive Controller, created for gamers with mobility issues, is now on sale. The Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) also announced today that it has acquired the Xbox Adaptive Controller for display in its Rapid Response gallery dedicated to current events and pop culture. First introduced in May, the Xbox Adaptive Controller can now be purchased online for $99.99. To create the controller, Microsoft collaborated with gamers with disabilities and limited mobility, as well as partners from several organizations, including the AbleGamers Charity, the Cerebral Palsy Foundation, Special Effect and Warfighter Engaged. According to Microsoft, the Xbox Adaptive Controller project first took root in 2014 when one of its engineers spotted a custom gaming controller made by Warfighter Engaged, a non-profit that provides gaming devices for wounded and disabled veterans. During several of Microsoft’s hackathons, teams
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Skype finally adds call recording

Skype is the communication tool of choice (and necessity) for millions, but it has always lacked a basic feature that no doubt many of those millions have requested: call recording. Well, Microsoft finally heard our cries, and recording is now built into Skype on both desktop and mobile. Inexplicably, the ability is available in the latest version of the app on every platform except Windows 10. Apparently it’ll be added in a few weeks. Recording is pretty simple to activate. Once you’re in a call, just hit the plus sign on the lower right and then select “Start recording.” The others on the call will see a little banner announcing the call is being recorded, “so there are no surprises.” But Microsoft is clearly leery of consent laws and reminds you via that same banner to verbally inform your interlocutors that you’re recording it. When the call is
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Skype rolls back its redesign by ditching stories, squiggles and over-the-top color

Just over a year after Skype introduced a colorful, Snapchat-inspired makeover which included its own version of “stories,” the company says it’s now going to refocus on simplicity – and it’s ditching stories along the way. The redesign had been met with a lot of backlash. Skype had clearly wanted to appeal to a more youthful demographic with its update, but in doing so, it cluttered the user experience with features no one had asked for or needed. One of these was “Highlights,” a feature that was very much Skype’s own take on Snapchat’s or Instagram’s Stories. With Highlights, Skype users were able to swipe up to pull up their smartphone’s camera, then snap a photo or record a video that could be decorated with typed or handwritten text, as well as with Skype’s own set of stickers. This could then be shared with individual Skype users, groups, or posted
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Microsoft no longer taking new enrollments for its Surface Plus financing program

Microsoft has quietly ended its Surface Plus financing program about a year after it launched. In a message on its site, the company said it stopped taking new enrollments on August 31 “after much thought and consideration.” The change does not affect existing customers, however, who will still be covered by their current financing plans. Financed by Klarna, a Stockholm-headquartered online financial services provider, the Surface Plus financing program launched in August 2017. It targeted students and other people who wanted an affordable way to own a Surface device, allowing them to spread payments over 24 months. The Surface Plus plan also enabled customers to upgrade to the latest device after 18 months, as long as they returned their previous device in good working condition. In a FAQ, Microsoft said existing customers will still be able to upgrade their Surface under the plan’s terms. The program’s end also does
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For Labor Day, work harder

Labor Day is a holiday that just doesn’t fit Silicon Valley. It’s purported purpose is to celebrate working men and women and their — our — progress toward better working conditions and fairer workplaces. Yet, few regions in recent times have supposedly done more to “destroy” quality working conditions than the Valley, from the entire creation of the precarious 1099 economy to automation of labor itself. My colleague John Chen offered the received wisdom on this discrepancy this weekend, arguing that Valley entrepreneurs should take the traditional message of Labor Day to heart, encouraging them to create more equitable, fair, and secure workplaces not just for their own employees, but also for all the workers that power the platforms we create and operate every day. It’s a nice sentiment that I agree with, but I think he misses the mark. What Silicon Valley needs — now more than ever
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