Aerial view of a forest at dawn

Microsoft is opening its doors to AI developers who can help the planet

Microsoft will work with organisations in the UK to develop artificial intelligence that helps the planet and people with disabilities, the company has announced at Future Decoded.

Lucas Joppa, Microsoft’s Chief Environmental Officer, used his keynote speech at the London event to launch the second AI for Good programme and invited ventures to apply.

The four-month accelerator will have space for 12 start-ups, charities, social enterprises and small and medium-sized businesses that have a social mission. It will give them credits for Azure, Microsoft’s cloud platform, a curriculum designed by Microsoft Startups, Social Tech Trust and Microsoft, access to workshops that will help develop their products and bring them to the market, and contact with relevant speakers.

“AI is one of the most important tools we have to accelerate innovation at the speed and scale we need to address climate change and other important societal challenges,” Joppa said. “It’s exciting to see Microsoft’s AI for Good initiative evolving to engage new partners and help catalyse social impact organizations across the UK.”

The new AI for Good programme, which will be run from the Microsoft Reactor in Shoreditch, London, will accept applications from companies developing AI in one of four areas:

  • AI for Earth – designed for organisations creating AI to build a sustainable future and address global environmental concerns spanning agriculture, biodiversity, climate change and water
  • AI for Accessibility – focused on organisations with AI solutions that help people with disabilities in their daily life, employment and communication and connection
  • AI for Humanitarian Action – for non-profit and humanitarian organisations providing disaster responses, human rights protection and support for refugees, displaced people or children
  • AI for Cultural Heritage – Microsoft’s newest category, which aims to empower people and organisations focused on the preservation and enrichment of cultural heritage. This includes celebrating the people who have made significant impact throughout history, developing digital tools to preserve important monuments for future generations, engaging with communities to preserve languages, and creating ways for collections and archives to be more easily accessed and enjoyed.

Clare Barclay, Chief Operating Officer for Microsoft UK, said: “Tackling the world’s biggest problems requires governments, companies and organisations to use the most powerful tools that they have. For Microsoft, that means making all our technology, whether it’s our cloud capabilities through services such as Azure, artificial intelligence, cognitive services and our skills, available to organisations who are developing solutions to resolve environmental, social and humanitarian issues that affect people across the planet.

“I’m proud to see the launch of the second AI for Good cohort in the UK. It will ensure that, once again, the UK will be home to some of the brightest minds and companies who are working hard to improve the planet for the current generation and those that follow.”

Aerial view of a castle on a hill

AI for Cultural Heritage will help people to develop digital tools to preserve important monuments for future generations

Last year Microsoft helped 11 startups in the UK, including WeWalk, which developed a smart cane that can detect obstacles above chest level; Immersive Rehab, which created interactive physiotherapy programmes in virtual reality; and Agrimetrics, a service that aims to help solve the global challenges of economically, ethically and environmentally sustainable food.

Benjamin Turner, Chief Operating Officer at Agrimetrics, said the “focus on social impact helped us reshape our strategy, with key messaging around advocacy and accelerating the marketplace”.

Isabel Van de Keere, Chief Executive of Immersive Rehab, added: “The programme has been and still is extremely valuable for us. Not only did it give us the opportunity to define our AI strategy further, we are also still in touch with experts in the field of AI, Immersive Tech and Healthcare at Microsoft to take our solution to the next level.”

The closing date for applications to the AI for Good cohort is November 15.