Microsoft makes applications smarter with Project Oxford updates

The suite's natural language understanding service has entered public beta

As the cloud and mobile computing revolutions continue trucking along, people are coming to expect greater intelligence from the applications that they use. With people getting more used to taking advantage of things like Microsoft's Cortana virtual assistant or Apple's Siri, meanwhile, app developers have a huge opportunity to use similar systems in order to drive engagement. 

Microsoft's Project Oxford is a suite of cloud services designed to help provide that intelligence for applications without requiring developers to build the complicated machine vision and learning algorithms that are necessary for powering those experiences. On Monday, the company announced that Project Oxford's Language Understanding Intelligent Service (LUIS) is available as a public beta, making it available to more developers worldwide.

LUIS allows developers to build models for processing natural language input and turn that into actions within their application. With Monday's update, Microsoft has also made more prebuilt models (including those that power a number of its products) available to developers right off the bat. In addition, the service now supports input in Chinese, along with mixed Chinese and English input. 

Developers can also import and export LUIS applications as JSON objects, meaning that they can build an entire model for how something is supposed to work, and then share that across a number of applications, in addition to checking that model into a version control software so teammates can stay on top of what's going on with an application's natural language capabilities. 

It's a tool that Microsoft is using internally to power the company's new GigJam service, which is currently in private beta at a number of companies. With LUIS, GigJam users can say something like "share this with Katherine," and have the system send selected information off to a co-worker. That same power is now available to anyone with this public beta. 

Microsoft also opened up new software development kits on GitHub for Project Oxford. They include tools for using face, computer vision and speech APIs from Project Oxford, and are available under a MIT open source license. That means developers will be able to look over the source code, see how it has evolved over time and even contribute to the code if they have something to add. 

All of this is good news for the company's cloud ambitions, since these services cost money for developers to use in their applications. As those apps become more popular, Microsoft should start earning more money. 

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Blair Hanley Frank

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