While the average Microsoft user may not be familiar with the phrase “cognitive services”, it does hold some weight within the industry. Cognitive services is the company’s fancy term for all things about machine learning and Artificial Intelligence (AI). These are two of the hottest topics being bandied about in today’s technological environments. Yes, such developments may hold interest for the typical end user as well, but their idea of AI would almost always end up looking like Data from Star Trek or Tony Stark’s virtual butler Jarvis from the Avengers.
Cognitive services is Microsoft’s attempt at bringing AI to the masses and all mobile app development companies and are doing so using a technique that many of their contemporaries in Silicon Valley, an all around the world have also applied. They are opening it up for mobile app developers.
In a recent announcement, the tech giant gave mobile app developers access to three of their AI tools for Skype translator, Bing Search and Cortana Speech. These are all big and recognizable brands within the company and is sure to eschew forth some great and interesting results and innovations. But, what is perhaps more important is that this is just the first wave of access that Microsoft has planned. These are the first three out of a total of twenty-five tools that Microsoft is looking to open up for mobile app developers to play around with. Which may lead some to ask, why would Microsoft do this in the first place? If they are such industry leaders, why give a third party to mess around with the code?
Companies like Microsoft give mobile app development companies access to their products to push progress in ways that they may not have ever imagined or accounted for. And, with the amount of mobile app developers currently playing in the space, the growth of these products will be greatly accelerated. On the grander scale of things, Microsoft is hoping that by allowing developers access to their AI tools it will make it that much easier to democratize AI. For the average user, this means access to highly capable and functioning AI sooner. Microsoft has even gone as far as making things easier for mobile app developers to work on their products. According to Microsoft, an app developer need not be an expert in machine learning to play, manipulate and code any of the three recently released tools.
For mobile app developers, this is a godsend. They don’t need to spend time learning a new language or re-invent the technology just so to work on it. Normally, an app developer must invest a significant amount of resources to create a machine-learned model to merely start developing the products. However, Microsoft has given developers “smart” API’s that are supposedly dead-easy to use and work with. The intuitive API’s will allow developers to do what they love to do and what they are really good at doing, and that is building rich features that can be integrated quickly into Skype, Bing and Cortana. These features can be anything giving the tool the ability to detect emotions, recognize visual and speech patterns and even language recognition and translation.
To be specific, Microsoft has given mobile app developers access to the APIs for the three following services: Customer Speech Service, Content Moderator and the Bing Speech API. The first service, as its name suggests, focuses on speech recognition which is a large component of the current understanding of AI. According to Microsoft, the Customer Speech Service not only recognizes speech patterns and has the ability to convert it to text, but it can discern speech from noisy backgrounds, and even sort the nuances of the speech like dialects, jargons and accents. Much like the Customer Speech Service, the Bing Speech API is another speech recognition service but specifically for Bing. It is able to turn spoken word into text, but Microsoft also claims that it is equally capable of performing the reverse, text to spoken audio.
While the first two services take care of the speech and audio input side of the AI equation, the third service takes care of the data management side. The Content Moderator, can be thought of as a catch-all data handling tool. Its main feature is its ability to quickly review data and “quarantine” key pieces of information. This translates to the efficient management and filtering of unwanted or harmful data. As powerful and significant, as these three services may be, it is not the extent of the Cognitive Services APIs sphere of influence.
The Microsoft Bot Framework and the Cognitive Services APIs are, in a way, meant to work hand-in-hand. This is by design and is part of the Microsoft’s AI plans and specifically refers to a set of strategies known as “conversation as platform”. By now, the industry and even end users have begun to notice that there is a rise in the amount of bots (in browser or in app opportunities to “talk to” or “chat with” someone to answer a question). It is easy to see how the services discussed above can easily overlap with the use of bots to provide a richer, more interactive and more in-depth experience with the user. Add on top of that the features that mobile app developers are currently whipping up and the potential is indeed great. But that is not to say that Cognitive Services are dependent on the Bot Framework, indeed is equally as effective when used autonomously.
The impact that these Cognitive Services will have is going to be massive, yet subtle at the same time. This is about building software and systems that listens and learns. As such, there is very little indication that anything is happening, until the user requests something from their device. Cognitive Services is making it possible for some of Microsoft most recognizable customer facing products to be pushed to forefront of the AI movement and allowing mobile app developers to experiment and create using the APIs is a driving force in this process. Microsoft’s excitement is mirrored by the eagerness of developers round the world. To date, over 420,000 mobile app developers from 60 countries have test Microsoft’s Cognitive Services API’s. No small number and no small wonder why Microsoft is confident that these services will make it so much more easier for humans to communicate with machines and vice versa.