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Microsoft bets big on AI data with new developer, user features

Businesses that want to use machine learning to glean more data from end-user apps can benefit from new AI capabilities in Microsoft developer tools. Plus, Office gets an AI upgrade.

SEATTLE -- New machine learning capabilities from Microsoft will help developers, IT and end users take advantage of AI data in corporate apps.

Microsoft released four new services as part of its Cognitive Services bundle for intelligent app development here at its Build conference. The company will also add artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities to Office applications. Organizations in a variety of industries are looking to use AI and machine learning to make human work more efficient, data-driven and insightful.

"We're trying to take advantage of the latest advancements, such as AI," said Jim Wooley, solutions architect at Slalom Consulting, an IT consulting firm in Seattle. "This certainly opens up exciting opportunities."

App development takes on AI

Microsoft's Cognitive Services is a set of application development tools based on Azure that allows developers to build apps for Apple iOS, Google Android and Windows. The four new services are Bing Custom Search, Custom Decision Service, Custom Vision Service and Video Indexer. Developers can create algorithms using these services in their apps with just a few lines of code, Microsoft said.

This certainly opens up exciting opportunities.
Jim Wooleysolutions architect at Slalom Consulting

Bing Custom Search allows users to search the web for images, videos and news based on prior data. Custom Decision Service uses Microsoft Graph, which takes unique or customized data from the user and connects it with other apps on their device, such as email or contacts. For example, if a user is scheduling a flight with an app, the Decision Service can be customized to take into account the user's calendar to make sure their schedule is clear.

Custom Vision Service allows an application to learn the names of items in images that a user uploads -- for example, identifying different pieces of furniture for an interior design company. Video Indexer makes the contents of videos searchable, so users can locate specific objects or people. It can also learn languages and slang terms recorded, and translate them into text.

"That was very interesting," said Joe Quint, director of cloud strategy who handles app development at Cerner Corp., a healthcare software provider in Kansas City, Mo. "Being able to use this broadly across a hospital and being able to do image extraction of videos would be very cool."

Cerner implements recording software in patients' rooms that hospitals use to extract data for research. Often, different hospitals use their own unique jargon for health-related terms that the employees make up together, Quint said. The AI services could help the software learn what these terms mean, he said. Additionally, connected apps could use intelligent video surveillance to alert a nurse when a patient needs to be seated and inform them where the closest wheelchair is, for example.

IT as AI 'data scientist'

On the IT side, it may be difficult to manage the large amounts of data the new services create, and that is something Microsoft needs to work on in the future, said Jack Gold, principal and founder of J. Gold Associates, a mobile analyst firm in Northborough, Mass.

"Microsoft has to have automated tools to manage data for you," Gold said. "We're not there yet, but that's where we want to go. You have to be a data scientist to do it yourself."

IT shops will also get new AI capabilities for Microsoft Office applications. The company showed off the first implementation of this in PowerPoint, where the app displays a text box on the screen that translates what a presenter says for the audience to read in a different language.

"The PowerPoint part of the Build keynote woke up the audience," Wooley said. "This has a definite practical purpose and is helpful for regions handling multiple languages, such as users in European countries where there are often many languages spoken in a small area."

The PowerPoint capability is available now as a preview, and Microsoft did not disclose a release date.

Next Steps

AI tools merge with collaboration services

Business apps benefit from AI boost

AI apps are coming of age in the enterprise

Dig Deeper on Enterprise application management

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