Insider Q&A: Steve Ballmer on Data for the People

Steve Ballmer says he started his new venture, USAFacts, as a way to "suck out all the data" collected by government agencies and shoot it back out to the public in a digestible form. The former Microsoft CEO, philanthropist and LA Clippers owner talked with The Associated Press about data -- and the way people and machines collect it.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: Microsoft is making a big push now on artificial intelligence. Do you think they're doing enough?

A: We made a huge investment. People love to change the name over time. If you go back, we were doing speech recognition. Speech recognition's a form of AI. We were doing computer vision. It's a form of AI. We've been doing machine learning. It's a form of AI.

Before all that, we were actually calling it AI and doing a bunch of AI. So I would say we've been working pretty coherently and consistently since the early '90s.

The thing that has really changed in AI is the amount of data you can collect to inform the machine so it can get smarter in its learning. Search engines were really the first big, high-popularity AI systems. Now we have digital assistants like Cortana, Alexa, Siri. Self-driving cars are basically machine-learning AI engines. They learn to recognize where other cars are and what actions to take.

So there are a variety of things now that are popping. But it's an investment Microsoft was making, certainly when I was there, and, by everything I read, as an external, third-party shareholder, the company continues to make good and important investments.

Q: What was your impetus for starting USAFacts?

A: I'm a numbers guy. I'm retired and my wife was talking with me about our philanthropic stuff and I highlighted that government has the most significant...

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