Microsoft’s bid to bring AI to every developer is starting to make sense
SEATTLE—For the third year in a row, Microsoft is heavily promoting machine-learning services at its Build developer conference. Over the three years, some of the language used around the services has changed—the “machine learning” term seems to have fallen out of favor, being replaced by the better-known “artificial intelligence,” and Microsoft has added many more services. But the bigger change is that ubiquitous intelligence now seems a whole lot more feasible than it did three years ago.
Three years ago, the service selection was narrow—a language service that identified important elements from natural language, speech-to-text and text-to-speech, an image-recognition service, a facial recognition service. But outside of certain toy applications, such as Microsoft’s age-guessing website, the services felt more than a little abstract. They felt disconnected from real-world applications.
Last year, the services took shape a little more. The bot bandwagon was just getting started, with Microsoft offering a framework for developers to build their own chatbots, and the right plumbing components have been published to hook those bots up to things like Skype and Teams. The appeal of the bots seemed perhaps limited, but other components that were displayed, such as a training user interface to help refine the language-understanding service, looked more promising. They showed ways in which a developer who wasn’t an expert in machine learning or artificial intelligence could not just build systems that used machine-learning components, but which tailored those components to tackle the specific problem area the developer was interested in.