Jordi Ribas, Microsoft: “If you personalize services too much, the user loses the broader point of view” | Technology
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He has been out of Spain for more than 30 years after going to the United States to study for a master’s degree and a doctorate. The corporate vice president of Microsoft Corporation, Jordi Ribas (Manresa, 53 years old), leads the multinational team that works on artificial intelligence and improving the results of the Bing search engine. “It was a bit of an excuse to be able to come to Barcelona more often!”, he jokes about the opening at the end of last year of a Microsoft R&D center in the Catalan capital where 30 people work with the forecast of tripling the workforce before the end of the year. Among his other tasks in the company, Ribas —based in Seattle (United States)— is in charge of coordinating the Barcelona team, which contributes through artificial intelligence algorithms to personalize the navigation of Microsoft products.
The executive explains that the multinational limits tailored content so that people who use its software do not lose sight of reality. “If you personalize the services too much, the user loses the broader point of view, which enriches him”, explains Ribas about the balance that Microsoft is looking for. “Other companies personalize more and get more attention time (engagement)”, reflects on the lively technological debate that seeing only what you like to see leads to extreme opinions. He gives as an example the services of the Microsoft MSN portal, which includes news: “There are the general ones and those that are more interesting for certain people”. The company’s center in the 22@ technological district of Barcelona, in which the corporation has invested “multiple million euros”, is researching artificial intelligence algorithms to improve its web products, such as the Bing search engine, the cloud services of Azure or Office.
Microsoft is still looking for experts for its center in Barcelona. It has 65 open job offers. “We have been able to hire people from all over Spain, Europe and England”, explains Ribas, who also praises the city’s local ecosystem: “We saw a lot of potential because there are more than 100,000 technology professionals and 25,000 researchers. We are finding highly specialized talent and that is why we are expanding the headquarters”. The corporate vice president of Microsoft Corporation explains that it has opened centers all over the world and that “I always saw that Spain was a bit in the middle because if you were looking for the best talent you would go to London and if you wanted a lower cost you would go to the Europe of the East”. He now says that even some employees from the United States have moved to Barcelona. “The quality of life in Spain is higher than in other places and the talent has also realized that there are more companies like ours that settle there,” he says.
Regarding a commitment to a specific city at a time when teleworking has grown, Ribas explains that the company allows up to 40% of all its employees to work remotely. However, he stresses the importance of maintaining spaces for people to gather. In this sense, he proposes the center of Barcelona as a European meeting point. Asked how he sees the difference between data protection regulation between Europe and the United States, Microsoft’s senior official explains that the corporation has implemented the limits established by the European Data Protection Law (GDPR) in all countries of the world : “We believe that it is important to respect these rules.”
Ribas’s team in Spain is divided between those who work on “the most fundamental artificial intelligence algorithms” and others who use them to apply them to the different Microsoft programs. The European Union is working to regulate machine learning and, in this sense, Ribas recognizes the “extra work” involved in ensuring the ethics of algorithms, to which his company dedicates a specific committee. “If you design them well you can make them objective, but then you train them with data and if the data is biased you can make them inadvertently make decisions that are not necessarily correct,” he argues.
“In Europe we already have some markets with a 20% share of PC usage. When I arrived, we were at 1% ”, Ribas explains about the promotion of the Bing search engine, one of his tasks in the company since 2014, and which he will also promote from the Barcelona offices. “In the United States we are almost at 40%,” he adds about a growth that, on his LinkedIn profile, explains that it has generated 7,000 million dollars for the company. He details two new search initiatives: accumulating points for use that can then be redeemed for contributions to NGOs and an option to only search for businesses that sell environmentally friendly products (currently only available in the United States and Canada).
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