The general concept of artificial intelligence (AI) has been around for a long time, but it is only recently, when all the necessary elements became generally available, that AI has become a practical and usable thing. In the next few years, just about everything you do is going to be tracked, analyzed, and filtered through some sort of artificial intelligence.

Microsoft, Google, Amazon, Facebook, and a slew of other technology companies have been building algorithms and developing machine learning protocols in anticipation of this point in time for years, and all of that work is about to pay off. With Cognitive Services, Microsoft wants to make the transition to an AI-driven world as simple as it can for developers and enterprise decision makers alike.

SEE: Microsoft Azure: The smart person’s guide

Microsoft Cognitive Services

During a session at the Build 2017 Conference, Microsoft representatives said three elements are coming together at this point in history to make AI a modern day practical reality:

  • The computational power offered by cloud computing
  • The development of algorithms and machine learning
  • The availability of huge amounts of data

Microsoft Cognitive Services taps into all three of these technological elements to offer developers a set of tools they can use to insert AI functions directly into their applications.

Do you need to implement facial recognition in a proprietary access security application for one of your facilities? Using Azure and Cognitive Services, you could add the functionality with just a few lines of code. No need to create your own pattern recognition algorithms or build a special server to handle the workload– Cognitive Services can take care of it and Microsoft can collect the monthly subscription fee in return.

Besides facial recognition, a number or ready-made AI services are available under the Cognitive Services umbrella, including Video API, Translator Speech API, Translator Text API, Recommendations API, and Bing Image Search API. More services and APIs are being developed and are released periodically. And if you are so inclined, you can participate in new algorithm development through the Cognitive Labs program.

SEE: Azure: How Microsoft plans to boost cloud speeds with an FPGA injection

Bottom line

The term artificial intelligence means different things to different people. Some think of malevolent AI systems from popular culture like the HAL 9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) or Skynet from The Terminator (1984), but we are far from that level of sophistication. Current AI systems are much more likely to be annoying rather than dangerous.

It would be difficult to successfully argue that we do not need better algorithms, specifically in retail situations. Facebook’s reaction to a single man of any age seems to be to treat them like a member of a fraternity. And I can’t tell you how many advertisements I have seen from Amazon offering deals on an item I purchased from them just the day before. Both are examples of bad algorithms creating bad experiences for customers.

By taking advantage of the computational power of the cloud and the availability of big data, Microsoft and other technology companies now have the power to create AI systems that not only work but actually work well. Cognitive Services looks to make those new and improved algorithms easily accessible to developers, allowing them to create better customer experiences.

Whether we are ready or not, we are all about to witness another major change in how we interact, transact, and conduct business. Only time will tell if pervasive and inescapable AI is a good thing, a bad thing, or just a thing we have to get used to. My educated guess is that it will be a little of all three.

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