Microsoft to tackle AI skills shortage with two new training programs

The tech giant reveals two new training programs to boost AI-related skills in business and in universities.
Written by Nick Heath, Contributor

Microsoft has revealed two new training programs to tackle the shortage of AI-related skills in business and academia.

The first of the two programs, Microsoft AI Academy, will run face-to-face and online training sessions for business and public-sector leaders, IT professionals, developers, and startups.

"The academy will be helping to develop practical AI skills, learning, and certification for customers and partners," said Cindy Rose, Microsoft UK CEO, speaking at the Future Decoded event in London today.

Rose added that Microsoft will use the academy to train up its own staff, including herself. Microsoft's ambition for the academy, she said, is "to empower you and your organization to do more with AI".

Beyond helping existing employees learn how to work alongside AI-related technologies such as chatbots, Microsoft is also funding a program to help train the next generation of data scientists and machine-learning engineers.

Professor Chris Bishop, director of Microsoft's Research Lab in Cambridge, said the Microsoft Research-Cambridge University Machine Learning Initiative is designed to address the stream of leading machine-learning researchers moving from universities to the private sector.

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In recent years, companies like Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google are reported to have tempted away "scores" of scientists with salaries two to five times larger than those offered by academia.

"One of the things we've seen over the past few years is because there are so many opportunities for people with skills in machine learning, particularly in industry, we've seen a lot of outflux of top academic talent to industry," said Bishop.

"This is something that concerns us, because it's those top academic professors and researchers who are responsible not just for doing research, but also for nurturing the next generation of talent in this field."

Bishop described the initiative as a "multi-million pound program in which we'll invest in PhD scholarship, post-doc, internship, and consultancy positions".

"This program has really two goals, the first is to realize the potential of AI to enhance human experience and the second is to nurture the next generation of researchers and talent," he said.

The announcement was welcomed by secretary of state for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Jeremy Wright, who said the UK government will also invest up to £50m ($64m) over four years in new Turing AI Fellowships to bring the best global researchers in AI to the UK, and increase the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund to £1.1bn ($1.41bn), "supporting technologies of the future".

Bishop added that a pilot of an AI residency program started at Microsoft's Cambridge Research Lab this year had attracted 1,200 applications for 25 places.

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