Satya Nadella, chairman and CEO of Microsoft, spoke with Clare Barclay, CEO of Microsoft UK, at Microsoft Envision to discuss the meaning of generative artificial intelligence and how it can help businesses and individuals to achieve more.
“Something’s changed clearly in the last year,” said Nadella on the adoption of AI. “I think our understanding of this new generation of AI and what it can do to pretty much any digital software category or any industry and business process, I think has gone through a real change.
“The idea that you can have a multi-turn, multi-domain and multimodal conversation with your computer is going to be perhaps the biggest change in computing.”
Nadella emphasised that generative AI is a new reasoning engine that is capable of recognising patterns in vast amounts of data. He also likened the generative AI shift in technology to Microsoft’s launch of the Windows operating system in 1992.
“Windows in particular was transformative in the workplace,” he said. “I remember what pre-email, word processing and spreadsheets looked like, and [that change] is what’s about to happen again with the age of Copilots.”
Barclay then asked Nadella how the UK can become a leader in AI. According to Nadella, the UK needs to follow similar stages to that which it did during the industrial revolution to get ahead of other countries: import the latest technology and export value to the rest of the world.
“The cloud is helping to make that possible,” he added. “The penetration of cloud in the UK is very, very high. Data is also already in the cloud. So, therefore, the adoption of AI is just the next step, and it has compounding effects. But we should also be very mindful that the rate of diffusion is fast, that I don’t think there’s going to be a distinction.”
Nadella explained that the rate of AI adoption depends upon each specific firm, rather than which sector it belongs to.
“I think whether it’s in financial services, retail or even healthcare, it’s very exciting to see the broad swath of industries being reshaped [with AI],” he said. For example, UK-based fashion company Asos has built a personalised fashion assistant in its mobile application and the NHS Trust in Cambridge is using AI to change how it diagnoses illnesses.
Barclay then asked Nadella how AI could transform the lives of individuals in the future.
“The eight billion people on this planet could have in their pocket a tutor that is personalised, a doctor that can sort of give you medical advice, and a management consultant […] that can tell you how best to run your life,” said Nadella. “If you take those three things, just think about what it could do to just the agency of an individual. A lot of us are afraid to venture into new domains because it takes a whole bunch of initiative, preparation and learning. But if you have something like Copilot to help you – an assistant that is going to walk you though each step – that is game changing. I think psychologically, that is the most exciting thing.”
Nadella highlighted some of the ways he uses AI personally, including reducing his workload and improving his skills. For example, Nadella recalled how he uses Github Copilot as a way to “bring back the joy of coding”, and how Microsoft 365 Copilot has helped him to form good work habits such as recapping meetings and asking himself and collaborators the intent of documents before they are created.