Microsoft Launches Latest Bid to One Up AI Competition
Your move, AWS and Google.
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It’s no secret these days that AI is a big deal in the world of business. According to Gartner, the percentage of enterprises using the technology has jumped astronomically over the past several years, tripling in the last year alone.
But talent shortages remain a huge hurdle – 54 percent of Gartner’s respondents view lack of qualified talent as the biggest challenge facing their business – which certainly explains the big push we’ve seen recently to democratize AI as much as possible.
“Everybody now offers pre-trained models, open-source tools and the platforms to train, build and deploy models,” wrote TechCrunch’s Frederic Lardinois. “If one company doesn’t have pre-trained models for some use cases that its competitors support, it’s only a matter of time before it will.”
Indeed, Microsoft is just one player in the AI game these days – albeit a major one – competing with not only heavy hitters like Google and AWS, but also numerous startups. Even Uber offers a code-free deep learning toolbox.
“It’s the auxiliary services and the overall developer experience, though, where companies like Microsoft, with its long history of developing these tools, can differentiate themselves,” Lardinois continued, which is clearly the objective behind the company’s latest AI announcement.
“Organizations of all sizes in all industries are using Azure AI to transform their business by using machine learning to build predictive models, optimizing business processes; utilizing advanced vision, speech, language, and decision-enabling capabilities to build AI powered apps and agents to deliver personalized and engaging experiences; [and] applying knowledge mining to uncover latent insights from vast repositories of data,” wrote Eric Boyd, corporate VP of Azure AI, in a company blog post. “Today, we are excited to announce a range of innovations across all these areas.”
And boy, was there a lot to announce. TechCrunch probably said it best when they called the move part of the company's "rather bizarre news dump before its flagship Build developer conference next week,” no doubt influenced by AWS beating them to the punch with their managed blockchain service announcement. (For more on Microsoft’s competing blockchain initiative, head on over to TechCrunch.)
While I won’t list all the fine details of the Azure AI announcement here – you can, of course, use a mouse to discover the rest for yourself – I do want to draw attention to a few I think you’ll find particularly useful:
Azure Machine Learning service is now previewing “new capabilities to enhance productivity,” which include an automated machine learning user interface and a visual interface. As TechCrunch explains, “users don’t need to write a single line of code” to use the automated interface; they just need to upload their data set and then tell the service what to predict. The visual interface allows users to build, train, and deploy ML models using drag and drop capabilities – again, no coding required.
The service now has MLOps capabilities, or DevOps for machine learning, that “enable operationalization of models at scale.”
Azure Open Datasets is the company’s newest commitment to an open platform, which “helps customers improve machine learning model accuracy using rich, curated open data and reduce time normally spent on both data discovery and preparation.”
Azure Cognitive Services got a handful of nifty programs, including Personalizer, which is “built on reinforcement-learning and prioritizes relevant content and experiences for each user, improving app usability and engagement;” Ink Recognizer, which allows developers to embed “digital ink recognition capabilities into apps;” and conversation transcription, an advanced speech-to-text tool.
Azure Search is now generally available. “Using Cognitive Search and its built-in AI capabilities, customers can discover patterns and relationships in their content, understand sentiment, extract key phrases and more, all without any data science expertise.”
“We’re moving away from some of the first-level problems of ‘here’s the table stakes, you have to have an AI platform,’ to much more sophisticated use cases around the operations of these algorithms, the simplification of them, new user experiences to really simplify how developers work and much richer cognitive services,” Boyd told TechCrunch.
We can’t wait to see what Google comes up with next. Healthy competition, after all, does wonders for innovation.
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