Microsoft wants to help solve the world's 'unsolvable problems' with $1bn cloud donation

As world leaders ponder the ramifications of artificial intelligence this week, Microsoft has announced a plan to donate $1bn in cloud resources to people who might find answers to those questions.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella is hoping free cloud services will help save the planet.

Image: Stephen Lam, Getty Images

Microsoft's newly-formed unit, Microsoft Philanthropies, says it will donate $1bn worth of cloud services to non-profits and university researchers over the next three years.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella announced the commitment ahead of a speech he's set to deliver on Wednesday at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where the theme is the "fourth industrial revolution".

Business bigwigs, politicians, and celebrities in attendance will ponder the post-digital revolution world of AI robots, designer babies, memory extraction, and what law makers should do to avoid mass impoverishment as blue- and white-collar workers are replaced by smarter automation.


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According to Nadella, Microsoft's $1bn in-kind donation will help solve the problems, since cloud computing is vital to unlocking the secrets of big data.

"Microsoft is empowering mission-driven organizations around the planet with a donation of cloud computing services -- the most transformative technologies of our generation," said Nadella.

"Now more than 70,000 organizations will have access to technology that will help them solve our greatest societal challenges and ultimately improve the human condition and drive new growth equally," he added.

Last year 193 heads of state adopted 17 sustainable development goals to achieve by 2030, including ending poverty, ending hunger, and ensuring affordable, reliable, and sustainable energy for all. Microsoft said the scale and computational power enabled by cloud computing "will be essential to unlocking solutions to this list of some of the world's seemingly unsolvable problems".

Specifically, those 70,000 non-profits will have access to Azure, Power BI, CRM Online, and its Enterprise Mobility Suite. Previously Microsoft has offered Office 365 free to non-profits.

For university researchers, Microsoft will add another 300 projects to its already-running Azure for Research program that currently grants free Azure storage and computing resources to 600 research projects.

Then there's Microsoft's connectivity program that has offered $75,000 in grants to startups with ideas on how to improve last-mile connection technologies. Applications for that program closed this week, but Microsoft Philanthropies intends to support 20 of these projects in at least 15 countries around the world by the middle of 2017.

Microsoft launched its dedicated Philanthropies unit in December, with the aim of providing more equal access to technology. The group is being lead by senior Microsoft lawyers, including VP of Philanthropies, Mary Snapp, a veteran lawyer at Microsoft who reports to its chief legal officer Brad Smith. As recently noted, Microsoft last year donated $120m in cash and $950m in in-kind donations.

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