AI in AgeTech, Part 5: Microsoft Enables Companies to Drive Efficiency and Inclusivity with AI

By Mark Ogilbee posted 08-28-2023 12:39 PM


In part five of our series examining ways artificial intelligence (AI) is impacting the AgeTech space, we talk with Patty Obermaier, emerging growth officer for global health and life sciences portfolio at Microsoft, which has a mission to empower every person and organization on the planet to achieve more. Microsoft for Startups is part of the AgeTech Collaborative™.

Obermaier’s role involves identifying emerging needs of Microsoft’s global health and life sciences customers, from digital native companies that are building products in the cloud using the latest technology, to massive enterprise organizations such as healthcare payers and providers then helping them use the newest developments in AI to meet those needs. We’re living in a world of massive change. AI has been around for years, but now we’re at an inflection point. AI breakthroughs are going to change and augment the way we work and live,” says Obermaier. “Regardless of industry or size of the business, everyone is trying to figure out how generative AI will enable them to do more. 

These more recent developments are fundamentally changing both the ways users interact with technology and what they can do with it. “There are two dimensions of this new AI,” says Obermaier. If you think about computing, the last 70-plus years have been a pursuit to create human-computer interfaces that are more intuitive, such as the keyboard and mouse. Now, we’re at the next point, which is natural language as a human-computer interface. You can use natural language to interface with AI systems to produce code if youre developing an application, music if you’re a composer, or poetry if youre a poet."

Information management is undergoing a similar revolution, as processes and content become increasingly digitized. “We have been digitizing the world people, places and things. With the new generation of AI, we now have a reasoning engine that allows us to start with a draft of a task we want to complete,says Obermaier. 

This transformation in AI is being integrated into Microsoft’s own products, such as its search engine, Bing. “You can now have a conversational search with Bing, and it maintains the context of the conversation and shows the references where its answers are coming from,” notes Obermaier. 

Beyond its own products, Microsoft aims to provide its enterprise customers with the platform for using AI in transformative — and responsibleways. “Azure AI has foundational models that we have created, which our customers can apply their data to and gain deeper insights,” Obermaier says.  

For example, a hospital can run Microsoft’s Azure AI foundational models on their electronic medical records within their IT environment in order to identify patients with certain characteristics, then design preventive treatment plans for them. This ensures a higher level of accuracy than relying on publicly available information. “Some AI models run on data from the internet only, which in many cases hasn’t been validated or may be outdated. That can be problematic,” says Obermaier.By running foundational models from Microsoft or ones that an organization has developed themselves on top of their data, they can have greater confidence that the information has been verified, is trusted and is coming from the right resources. 

It’s not just enterprises and large organizations that can benefit from these developments in AI, however; AI can impact small companies in particularly helpful ways. “We’re seeing an explosion of startups that are using AI foundational models and creating their own IP on top of those,” says Obermaier. “As a platform company, that excites us at Microsoft because Azure AI is one of the most complete AI platforms that companies can leverage to bring their creativity and products to life. 

“I get excited about how we can improve healthcare in this country,” says Obermaier by way of example. “About 70% of the counties in the US do not have a medical oncologist, and medical information doubles every 73 days. There’s no way a doctor in a rural setting can possibly keep up with all the evolving knowledge in the cancer field. But just imagine how AI can helphow it can help a doctor triage patients, review the latest information and summarize it, and put forth care suggestions for consideration. All to enable faster times to diagnosis and treatment." Despite the transformative power of AI, Obermaier emphasizes the importance of the human element. “At Microsoft, we use the term ‘copilot.’ We never see AI as being on automatic pilot. We always see the human in the middle of it — especially in healthcare, where lives are at stake. 

On a personal level, Obermaier herself sees the power of AI as an important step toward a greater good. “I’m driven by three simple numbers: eight, four and one,” she says. “There are 8 billion people on the planet, but 4 billion don’t have access to adequate healthcare — that’s half of our population — and 1 billion people have disabilities. So every day, I’m asking, ‘Are we being inclusive? How can we create something for everyone? Are we enabling better access to better care? 

Obermaier is excited about working with companies that share her vision, such as AgeTech Collaborative™ startup participant Voiceitt, which enables people with nonstandard speech patterns to live more connected and independent lives by, among other things, using cloud-based voice assistants. Voiceitt also features an integration with Microsoft Teams that transcribes the speaker’s speech in real time during virtual meetings. Voiceitt is one of the leading text-to-speech AI companies out there,” says Obermaier. “I have had the pleasure to work with its founders to bring their mission to life and enable technology for all. This highlights the broad applicability of Microsoft’s approach. Our goal is to democratize breakthroughs in AI through our products to help people and organizations be more productive and solve the most pressing problems of our time,” says Obermaier. We are committed to making the promise of AI real and doing it responsibly." 

You can find Part 1 in the series here, Part 2 here, Part 3 here, Part 4 here and Part 6 here.