Microsoft delves deeper into AI with new kit bag of tools

Releases Visual Studio Tools, Azure IoT Edge, Microsoft Translator and Seeing AI

Microsoft's James Kavanagh, Dave Henier, Steve Clayton and Jenny Lay-Flurrie,

Microsoft's James Kavanagh, Dave Henier, Steve Clayton and Jenny Lay-Flurrie,

Microsoft has stepped up its investment in the artificial intelligence (AI) arena, through releasing new tools and solutions to amplify human and organisational capabilities.

Specifically, these new tools include Visual Studio Tools, Azure IoT Edge, Microsoft Translator and Seeing AI.

Unveiled during Microsoft Summit in Sydney, the tech giant showcased the new tools along with examples of how organisations where embracing AI.

According to Microsoft, the popularity of AI has been ramping up in market mainly due to the three influencing factors - big compute (i.e cloud computing), powerful algorithms, and massive amounts of data.

“There are enormous amounts of data that we’re not even scratching the surface of being able to use," Microsoft AI general manager Steve Clayton said.

"Less than half a per cent of the data currently available is being used for insight and intelligence.

"At Microsoft, we spent 25 years in research looking at how do we bring AI to life? And now we’re at the point now that we’re starting to put those tools and platforms out into the world."

The release of Visual Studio Tools for AI developers and data scientists combines capabilities such as debugging and rich editing with the support of deep learning frameworks such as Microsoft Cognitive Toolkit, Tensorflow and Caffe.

Microsoft has also revealed cloud and AI capabilities for Azure IoT Edge, which enables developers to build and test container-based modules using C, Java, .Net, Node.js and Python, and simplify the deployment and management of workloads and machine learning models at the edge, are also now generally available.

In addition, the vendor has made multiple innovations in Microsoft Translator, expanding the use of neural networks technologies to improve both text and speech translations in all of Microsoft Translator’s supported products including developer centric APIs, apps, conversation and presentation translation features.

Seeing AI is part of an ongoing research project at Microsoft, designed to help support blind and vision impaired people, to understand what’s happening around them, all through an app.

Using Microsoft technologies and the camera on an iPhone, the app helps to read documents, recognise people’s faces and provide a detailed description of their appearance and age. It can also help identify a product using its barcode, and recognise and describe images.

According to Microsoft chief accessibility officer Jenny Lay-Flurrie, providing the intelligent capabilities for computers to hear, see, talk and understand natural ways of communication has "profound implications" for enterprise technology customers, but importantly makes way for people with disabilities to feel more included in the workplace and society.

“This was a project that was created by a blind employee and cognitive services has empowered this to happen,” Lay-Flurrie said.

“It’s free and we look forward to hearing how it’s going to empower new experiences. We want to level the playing field  and need people with disabilities to be as empowered as everyone else.”

When AI makes an impact

Australian-based AI company, Search365 has spent the past 12 months creating a new product, Enterprise Search Accelerator, which was on display in Sydney this week.

The tool is designed to aggregate search results across a number of data sources and feed it into a single user interface. It is built to work with Microsoft SharePoint and Microsoft partner Elastic Search as its core search functionality.

Previously, Search365 created a system for the Fair Work Ombudsman, which handles more than five million public enquiries each year, by combining Enterprise Search Accelerator with Microsoft Dynamics and SharePoint. 

Using a Dynamics connector, Search365 were able to index all of its CRM content, enabling 42 different data repositories to be searched instantly.

Some Australian companies that were capitalising on AI included packaging company, Pact Group, which is exploring the use of an ‘intelligent kiosk’ aimed at workplace safety using Microsoft Cognitive Services Computer Vision for facial and object recognition.

Meanwhile, the Workroom Kiosk Demo identifies employees in a workshop environment, if they’re wearing the right safety gear, equipment and understand authorised tasks.

Pact CIO, Michael Ross, was hopeful of commencing trials of the system next year and if successful, it will be rolled out across the company’s locations within the year.

Furthermore, the University of Canberra was also another example in where it was currently working on  deploying chatbots - Bruce for its staff, and Lucy for its students.

These chatbots were developed using Microsoft Bot Framework and Cognitive Services Language Understanding Intelligent Service (LUIS).

University of Canberra deputy director of projects and innovation, Rebecca Armstrong, said that using the Microsoft Bot Framework and LUIS took around a fortnight to get a working prototype up and running, trained using the University’s existing FAQ information, and connected to Dynamics 365.

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