Microsoft Working With M&S On ‘Game-Changing’ AI Tech

Marks & Spencer is the latest retailer to work with Microsoft on revamping the high-street shopping experience

Microsoft has formed a deal with Marks & Spencer to provide artificial intelligence expertise that could revamp the high street shopping experience.

The companies provided few details about how AI could be used by the department store chain, but M&S chief executive Steve Rowe said the technology could prove a “game-changer” for UK retail.

“M&S is transforming into a digital-first retailer, at a time when the sector is undergoing a customer-led revolution,” Rowe said. “We want to be at the forefront of driving value into the customer experience using the power of technology.”

Under Rowe M&S last year announced a five-year transformation plan aimed in part at giving the company a more digital focus.

Microsoft chief Satya Nadella

High street revolution

The overhaul has included costly store closures that M&S said in May would lead to a second straight year of falling profits.

Microsoft has made AI one of its core areas of focus in the post-PC era, and is reportedly working with retailers on AI-based automation technologies aimed at eliminating checkout tills.

This week it announced the acquisition of Bonsai, a Berkeley, California-based start-up that deals with a core part of Microsoft’s AI efforts.

Bonsai specialises in an AI training technique called reinforcement learning, and has designed its processes to be usable by people who don’t have AI expertise.

Industrial control systems

Its general-purpose reinforcement learning platform is particularly suited for industrial control systems such as robotics, energy, ventilation systems and general manufacturing, Microsoft said.

The technology works with Microsoft’s existing cloud-based technologies to provide a complete set of tools for training autonomous systems, Microsoft said.

The fact that the tools can be used by people who are experts in particular subject matter, but have no AI experience, could make it easier to train and deploy autonomous systems, Microsoft said.

“We have to remove the barriers to development, empowering every developer, regardless of machine learning expertise, to be an AI developer,” Microsoft corporate vice president Gurdeep Pall said in a statement. “Bonsai has made tremendous progress here and Microsoft remains committed to furthering this work.”

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