Microsoft Cognitive Services Designed to "Democratize" Machine Learning

Any developer can get into building Artificial Intelligence apps with Microsoft Cognitive Services.

Just as in the pioneering days of ecommerce, you could build an online retail store app by dropping in a shopping cart web service, Microsoft wants to empower you to create AI apps by adding pre-built cognitive services.

Suddenly your next app can include machine learning capabilities for speech recognition, text analysis, image recognition, and decision support. The best part is you don't have to be an AI guru or a data scientist to build that app. That is the democratizion of AI that Microsoft is hyping.

As the company says in a recent post explaining Cognitive Services and machine learning: "You don't need special machine learning or data science knowledge to use these services."

If you know how to work with REST and APIs you're good to go as a Microsoft blog defining cognitive services states:

"Cognitive Services are a set of machine learning algorithms that Microsoft has developed to solve problems in the field of Artificial Intelligence (AI). The goal of Cognitive Services is to democratize AI by packaging it into discrete components that are easy for developers to use in their own apps. Web and Universal Windows Platform developers can consume these algorithms through standard REST calls over the Internet to the Cognitive Services APIs."

Applications: Meet LUIS
All this data science abstraction is interesting but how does it work in a real world app? Microsoft has examples, such as its cognitive service called LUIS explained here:

Language Understanding (LUIS) is a cloud-based API service that applies custom machine-learning intelligence to a user's conversational, natural language text to predict overall meaning, and pull out relevant, detailed information.

A client application for LUIS is any conversational application that communicates with a user in natural language to complete a task. Examples of client applications include social media apps, chat bots, and speech-enabled desktop applications.

Welcome to Cognitive Computing
Apps like a LUIS-powered chat bot fall into the brave new world of cognitive computing, which Wikipedia defines in this article.

"Cognitive computing (CC) describes technology platforms that, broadly speaking, are based on the scientific disciplines of artificial intelligence and signal processing. These platforms encompass machine learning, reasoning, natural language processing, speech recognition and vision (object recognition), human–computer interaction, dialog and narrative generation, among other technologies."

As the article goes on to explain, cognitive computing is basically AI technologies being used to act like a human in interactions with actual humans. LUIS will help you create a chat bot to talk to visitors to your website or online retail store.

Microsoft Content Moderator is a service that acts like a human editor checking to make sure content posted to your site does not contain offensive material. The company envisions lots of jobs for this cognitive service including:

  • Online marketplaces that moderate product catalogs and other user-generated content.
  • Gaming companies that moderate user-generated game artifacts and chat rooms.
  • Social messaging platforms that moderate images, text, and videos added by their users.
  • Enterprise media companies that implement centralized moderation for their content.
  • K-12 education solution providers filtering out content that is inappropriate for students and educators.

Considering all the news and controversy surrounding online postings, working with this technology may be a hot zone.

Cognitive Service is different from machine learning
But before you start featuring yourself as a machine learning aficionado, Microsoft hastens to add that there are differences between ML and its cognitive services offering. 

"A Cognitive Service provides a trained model for you," the company states. "This brings data and an algorithm together, available from a REST API(s) or SDK. You can implement this service within minutes, depending on your scenario. A Cognitive Service provides answers to general problems such as key phrases in text or item identification in images."

If you're going to get into ML, you are going to need to up your AI and data science skill levels.

As Microsoft differentiates it: "Machine learning is a process that generally requires a longer period of time to implement successfully. This time is spent on data collection, cleaning, transformation, algorithm selection, model training, and deployment to get to the same level of functionality provided by a Cognitive Service. With machine learning, it is possible to provide answers to highly specialized and/or specific problems. Machine learning problems require familiarity with the specific subject matter and data of the problem under consideration, as well as expertise in data science."

Okay, so it's back to the classroom if you want to learn to do all that stuff.

Learn AI Application Development
At Visual Studio Live in Orlando FL, Nov. 17-22, 2019, there is a track where you can Learn AI Application Development.

"Artificial Intelligence is changing how you build apps," states the course description. "Technologies like advanced machine learning, natural language processing, and more, mean you can build truly 'smart apps'. With today's accelerated development cycles, you need to be ready to build the next generation of self-learning applications. In this track, you'll find talks on interacting with intelligent agents like Alexa and Google Assistant, Microsoft's Cognitive Services, Azure Machine Learning, Databricks and DevOps for AI."

Find out about all the tracks at Visual Studio Live! in Orlando here.

Posted by Richard Seeley on 10/16/2019

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