Microsoft AI chief Harry Shum to depart in February after 23 years at the tech giant

Harry Shum at Microsoft’s Redmond, Wash. campus. (GeekWire Photo / Todd Bishop)

Microsoft AI chief Harry Shum is leaving after 23 years at the Redmond, Wash. tech giant in a big departure for Microsoft, which has been investing heavily in AI and related technologies.

Shum, the executive vice president in charge of Microsoft’s AI and Research Group, will depart in Feb. 1, 2020, a Microsoft spokesperson confirmed Wednesday.

Microsoft CTO Kevin Scott will take over Shum’s responsibilities while maintaining his previous work.

The change is effective immediately. Shum, who also led Microsoft Research, will continue advising Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and co-founder Bill Gates, but it’s unclear what else is on the horizon for Shum.

Harry Shum speaks at a Microsoft event. (GeekWire File Photo)

Nadella formed the Microsoft AI and Research group in 2016 as a fourth engineering division at the company, alongside the Office, Windows and Cloud Enterprise divisions. Microsoft wants to “democratize AI,” making it available to any person or company, and radically changing the way computers interact with and work on behalf of humans.

“We truly believe AI is this disruptive force, even though it’s not new,” Shum said in a 2017 interview with GeekWire. “The recent progress is just enormous. We certainly have seen that through our own products and engagement with customers. We also feel we have a very strong point of view about how we take AI to the next step.”

In its first year of operation, the AI and Research group grew by 60 percent, from 5,000 to 8,000. Microsoft last year doubled down on AI as part of an engineering reorganization.

Microsoft is competing against the likes of Google, Amazon, Salesforce, Apple, and countless AI startups and research groups, all of them looking to lead the tech industry in this new era of artificial intelligence.

Shum’s Microsoft journey started at Microsoft Research in 1996. He helped launch Microsoft Research Asia in Beijing two years later. From 2007 to 2013, Shum was the corporate vice president responsible for Bing search product development.

“I am an optimist,” Shum writes on his LinkedIn profile. “We are working every day to bring the best innovations to the world, pushing AI out of the labs and into the mainstream. There is still so much to learn and deliver around AI and research. We are just starting to scratch the surface of what it can do to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.”

Kevin Scott - GeekWire Cloud Summit 2019
Microsoft CTO Kevin Scott speaks at the 2019 GeekWire Cloud Summit. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

Scott became CTO in 2017. He was previously vice president of engineering and operations at LinkedIn; led engineering and operations at mobile advertising company AdMob; and worked two stints at Google, starting as a senior engineering manager in 2005.

Scott, Nadella, and Microsoft are betting on various waves of innovation in the years ahead: the confluence of machine learning, artificial intelligence, 5G mobile broadband, cloud technologies, and a growing number of sensors and IoT devices around the world.

“You’ve got all of this opportunity for places where you can interface with the physical world,” Scott said at the GeekWire Cloud Tech Summit in June. “It’s just where business opportunity is going to live.”

Scott is also the host of the podcast Behind the Tech and is involved in diversity initiatives both inside and outside the company.

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