Google’s AutoML lets you train custom machine learning models without having to code

Google today announced the alpha launch of AutoML Vision, a new service that helps developers — including those with no machine learning (ML) expertise — build custom image recognition models. While Google plans to expand this custom ML model builder under the AutoML brand to other areas, the service for now only supports computer vision models, but you can expect the company to launch similar versions of AutoML for all the standard ML building blocks in its repertoire (think speech, translation, video, natural language recognition, etc.).

The basic idea here, Google says, is to allow virtually anybody to bring their images, upload them (and import their tags or create them in the app) and then have Google’s systems automatically create a customer machine learning model for them. The company says that Disney, for example, has used this system to make the search feature in its online store more robust because it can now find all the products that feature a likeness of Lightning McQueen and not just those where your favorite talking race car was tagged in the text description.

The whole process, from importing data to tagging it and training the model, is done through a drag and drop interface. We’re not talking about something akin to Microsoft’s Azure ML studio here, though, where you can use a Yahoo Pipes-like interface to build, train and evaluate models. Instead, Google is opting for a system where it handles all of the hard work and trains and tunes your model for you.

It’s no secret that it’s virtually impossible for businesses to hire machine learning experts and data scientists these days. There is simply too much demand and not enough supply.

“AI and machine learning is still a field with high barriers to entry that requires expertise and resources that few companies can afford on their own,” Google’s chief scientist for AI/ML Fei-Fei Li said during a press event earlier this week. If you assume there are about a million data scientists today, then that’s pretty much the number of people who will be able to use your tools. “Today, while AI offers countless benefits to businesses, developing a custom model often requires rare expertise and extensive resources.”

Google argues that AutoML is the only system of its kind on the market. To be fair, though, there are already services like Clarif.ai and others that are taking a similar approach. Indeed, Microsoft’s Cognitive Services also will happily allow you to customize its pre-trained models for vision, speech recognition and decision making (though all of these are also still in preview).

To get access to AutoML Visions, developers currently have to apply for access. The company didn’t share any pricing information yet, but chances are it will charge one fee for training the models and then another for accessing the model through its APIs.

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