The Futurist Technologist

Khushwant Singh

Gurdeep Singh Pall Corporate Vice President, Business AI, Microsoft Corp.

However, unlike his previous responsibilities, this was a very complex one he had landed himself into. Most of Skype work was based in Europe; Lync work was on the West Coast, and it was grueling for Gurdeep to straddle the two: North America and Europe. Gurdeep got an apartment in London and shuttled back and forth between Seattle and London – quite the commute! Other than this being a geographic ordeal, there was this unique element of it not only being a multi-billion dollar business but also with a consumer base of hundreds of millions of users across the globe.

Apart from the challenge of balancing these two factors, there was a need to refresh the technical architecture – which itself was a monumental task akin to rebuilding a Boeing 747 while flying it. Also, different countries had different telecom regulations and there were huge regulatory issues with some countries. Other big challenges included dealing with privacy issues with governments demanding data for various purposes which had to be dealt in a way that was consistent with Microsoft’s stated principles. ‘It had many facets to it,’ says Gurdeep while explaining the massive issues he had to face as head of Skype. One of the most significant hallmarks of Gurdeep’s tenure in Skype was when Skype launched Translator. It was a landmark and a historic step in the world of communication, as the Translator broke language barriers that shackled people. Skype Translator, which uses machine learning to translate could now work in eight different languages in real-time voice and video calls and was available in more than fifty languages for instant messaging. For the first time ever in history, Gurdeep demonstrated to the world real-time translation of spoken language. At a conference in Los Angeles to showcase this breakthrough in technology, Gurdeep spoke in English, a lady on the Skype screen spoke in German, while it was being translated alongside. This major achievement was carried by the entire media of the world, be it CNN, BBC, Times magazine, or the New York Times.

Each rise, which brought laurels to Gurdeep, did not alter his personal demeanor. He remained quite the humble and reserved man that he always has been. Gurdeep enjoys his personal space and calls himself a realist, which is neither an optimist nor a pessimist. He savors sipping well-aged single malts after a hard day’s work and is quite a connoisseur. Not only is he a connoisseur of whiskey, he is a sommelier of fine wines in equal measure. He enjoys his wines, expensive ones, huh! He prefers to holiday with his family, and heading out for skiing holidays on his four-wheel drive is his idea of a great break.

And so after putting in three years in Skype, Gurdeep wanted to move on. That he had been buried in communication was bothering him and he yearned to return to AI.

Artificial Intelligence

According to Gurdeep, Microsoft like other industry leaders is putting in a lot of stake in Artificial Intelligence. The idea of pumping in huge resources into AI germinates from the philosophical thought that it can take up any process or system and make it a lot faster, efficient and better. AI, with its more recent advances in so-called “Deep Learning”, can itself figure out how to get smarter. It is unlike previous systems, which were written by humans by coding rules and where algorithms were making the system work. In AI the systems can self-learn in areas that are highly complex or “hyperdimensional”, exceeding humans ability to reason in such systems.

Khushwant Singh
  • Manpreet Singh