Microsoft’s Cognitive Services get customizable models for search, image classification and A/B testing

At its Build developer conference, Microsoft announced it is adding four new services to the 25 already available for Cognitive Services, its platform for making various kinds of machine learning models easily available to developers. What makes three of these new services stand out is that they are customizable. Traditionally, services like this tend to focus on pre-trained models that give the developer very little flexibility. Three of the four new services Microsoft is introducing today, however, are highly customizable.

These new services include a machine vision service that developers can train with their own images, as well as a custom, Bing-based search engine that is powered by AI and the “custom decision service,” which can be used for A/B tests or personalized interfaces and content recommendations.

In addition, Microsoft is launching a video indexer that developers can use to make their videos searchable, as well as a new online lab where it will expose more experimental services. Among the first of these is a gesture recognition service, for example, though this sadly relies on a depth-sensing camera, which most developers probably don’t have easy access to.

“One of the things I noticed just in the past year — we shipped a lot of services and started talking to customers,” Microsoft’s Irving Kwong told me ahead of today’s announcement. “We find that Cognitive Services really hits a sweet spot because most companies just don’t have the resources to go build their own AI.” But while the whole mantra behind this platform has always been to democratize machine learning, most of the existing services aren’t able to adapt to a user’s needs.

The custom vision service, for example, allows a company that wants to automatically track parts made in its factory to upload images of those parts and train a custom model to recognize them. They can upload those images through a web portal, so even a company that doesn’t have any machine learning specialists on staff should be able to work with this tool.

The custom search engine is a bit of an odd one. It allows developers to build their own customized web search experiences without having to touch any code. The developer can decide which parts of the web the search engine can draw from, but the power of the service is in also featuring an AI that can help them find those sites. It’s worth noting that the service is completely ad-free.

As for the decision service, Microsoft’s AI prowess sadly can’t yet tell you which trousers you should wear today, but instead focuses on helping developers build automatic decisions into their tools. Those may be A/B tests, personalized content recommendations (or deals, if you are into those e-commerce kind of scenarios, or — because this is a pretty flexible service — you can even use it to help you allocate resources, no matter whether those are computer systems or workers.

The video index is not customizable, but it is very powerful. It can index about 45 minutes of video in five minutes, and, in that time, it looks for faces (and can recognize celebrities, for example), sentiment (which shows up in a timeline), objects and text on the screen. The service can even translate a number of different languages and then index the spoken text, too.

Microsoft says that more than 568,000 developers from more than 60 countries have signed up to use its Cognitive Services so far.