Machine Learning – mining already available data to predict trends and patterns – is increasingly becoming integrated into the fabric of our daily lives. Services such as demand forecasting, virtual assistants, search portals, fraud detection, spam filters, are all powered by machine learning. And there is more on its way.
With Azure ML, Microsoft’s, machine learning cloud service, it intends to bring to market “an engine for tech transfer and knowledge transfer for years to come.”
Says Roger Barga, one of the architects of the Azure ML, “The ranking algorithm that’s in our regression module, the same one running Bing search and serving up ranked results, it’s our implementation on Azure but all the heuristics and know-how came from the years of experience running it. The same recommendation module we have in Azure ML is the same recommendation module that serves up in Xbox what player to play against next.”
Azure ML can sift through a document and investigate what its about and look up related topics on Bing. “We can say this is a company, this is a person, this is a product,” explains Barga. “That’s the same way Delve will find documents and discussions and messages that you’ll want to see.”
The Azure ML team worked closely with Microsoft Research (MSR) to examined all the different machine learning systems they had and built one platform they could access, so users can permute and combine them like Lego blocks.
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“We took what was a monolithic piece of code, the MSR ML libraries, and pulled out meaningful pieces that are useful by themselves and that have consistent interfaces.” says Barga. “We could combine any two pieces of Lego together to start to make this arbitrarily complex model that our user wants to create. We’ve given them the composable pieces, we’ve made sure that the data will flow, that the interfaces are all compatible and when they click run, they get a finished model at the end.”
Combining these blocks in a standard framework implies that MSR creates new machine learning systems – like the Project Adam system that can identify, for instance, the breed of a dog or tell you if a plant is poisonous – it will be easy to connect them into Azure ML as new building blocks.
Satya Nadella, Microsoft CEO, was quite excited when Barga, while working at MSR, showed a demo of machine learning and data analytics running as a service on Azure, connected to excel.
“Satya got excited and it got me excited about doing this for real; bringing this to people as a service that would scale and bring value to our business customers.”
Microsoft believes that we are to see plenty of intelligent agents such as Delve and Cortana that would be intuitive and would understand our needs better, likes and dislikes, while accessing data, or reading mails, for example, thus pushing us towards a simpler scheme of things.