Microsoft puts AI in containers

Adds container support to Azure Cognitive Services

Microsoft has announced a preview of container support for a range of its Azure-based AI services.

The company said that from today, it would offer support for Computer Vision, Face, and Text Analytics, with more Azure Cognitive Services to support containers in the future.

Microsoft said that the launch of container support meant that companies could employ its models in remote locations or in on-site data centres.

In a Microsoft blog entry Jennifer Langston gave the example of a hospital seeking to use Azure Cognitive Services to analyse documents stored in a variety of different digital and analog formats.

Previously “the hospital would have had to upload all of its forms to the cloud to use those tools, which isn’t ideal for users who have constrained internet bandwidth, need nearly instantaneous results or who prefer their data to remain onsite,” Langston wrote.

“Containers support means companies can take advantage of AI tools even if they are in a scenario in which they can’t easily access the public cloud,” Chris Stetkiewicz wrote in a Microsoft blog entry.

“Microsoft’s first containerized cognitive services include APIs that use optical character recognition to find words in images; can detect language, extract key phrases and analyze sentiment in text; and recognize faces in images,” Stetkiewicz wrote.

Microsoft said the announcement meant its customers could build “one application architecture that is optimized to take advantage of both robust cloud capabilities and edge locality”. The company said that it would also make it easier to test new models before deploying them in a production environment.

Bringing container support Azure Cognitive Services was one of a suite of announcements Microsoft made today that it said were intended to help smooth businesses’ path to AI.

The company said that to date, more than 1.2 million developers have tried Azure Cognitive Services. Azure Machine Learning is delivering more than 500 million real-time predictions per month, and more than 200 million batch predictions per month.

Some 360,000 developers have signed up to use Azure Bot Service, Microsoft said, with its cloud service supporting more than 35,000 active bots a month.

The company made a number of announcements relating to bots, including the launch of guidelines for developing “responsible” conversational AI.

“Think of conversational AI as an extension of your brand, a service that interacts with your customers and clients using natural language on behalf of your organization,” wrote Lili Cheng, corporate vice president and distinguished engineer, Microsoft AI and Research.

“Remember that when a person interacts with a bot that represents your organization, your organization’s trust is on the line. If your bot violates your customer’s trust, then their trust in your organization may in fact be violated. That’s why the first and foremost goal of these guidelines is to help the designers and developers of conversational AI build responsible bots that represent the trust in the organization that they represent.”

Microsoft today launched a preview of what it described as a solution accelerator to help organisations quickly roll out virtual assistants.

Microsoft also revealed it had acquired XOXCO, the creators of Howdy bot for Slack and Botkit.

“We have shared goals to foster a community of startups and innovators, share best practices and continue to amplify our focus on conversational AI, as well as to develop tools for empowering people to create experiences that do more with speech and language,” Cheng said.

Earlier this year Microsoft acquired Semantic Machines and Bonsai.

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