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Microsoft Makes AI and Cognitive Services Front-and-Center of New Family of Building Blocks

To power multiple waves of transformation for over twenty years computing industry has leveraged three core capabilities, i,e, Compute, Storage and Networking (CSN), now in a time of digital era new generation of building blocks from Artificial Intelligence (AI), to mixed/virtual reality, to blockchain, to IoT, to quantum computing, and more has emerged where both the people and the tools will shape software and computing by harnessing the ability of these new capabilities.

Today on stage at the //Build Conference in Seattle, Microsoft CEO described AI to be a front and center conversation in this new family of building blocks with new programs and initiatives announced today.

AI for Accessibility, a new $25 million, five-year program aimed at harnessing the power of AI to amplify human capability for the more than one billion people around the world with disabilities.

AI for Accessibility, a $25 million call to action includes grants, technology and AI expertise to helps developers to accelerate development of accessible and intelligent AI solutions, like real-time speech-to-text transcription, visual recognition services and predictive text functionality that suggests words as people type are just a few examples builds on Azure Cognitive Services to empower people with hearing, vision and other disabilities.

Microsoft Cloud Data Algorithms

In Speech and Machine translation sector Microsoft announced a new unified Speech service in preview with following capabilities:

  • Speech to Text (speech transcription) – converting spoken audio to text with standard or custom models tailored to specific vocabulary or speaking styles of users (language model customization), or to better match the expected environment, such as with background noise (acoustic model customization). Speech to Text technology enables a wide range of use cases like voice commands, real-time transcriptions, and call center log analysis.
  • Text to Speech (speech synthesis) – bringing voice to any app by converting text to audio in near real time with the choice of over 75 default voices, or with the new custom voice models, creating a unique and recognizable brand voice tuned to your own recordings.
  • Speech Translation – providing real-time speech translation capabilities with models based on neural machine translation (NMT) technologies. Three elements of the Speech Translation pipeline can now be customized through a dedicated tool: speech recognition, text to speech and machine translation.

Speech Devices Software Development Kit (SDK) delivers superior audio processing from multi-channel sources for more accurate speech recognition, including noise cancellation, far-field voice and more. Developers can use it to build variety of voice-enabled scenarios like drive-thru ordering systems, in-car or in-home assistants, smart speakers and other digital assistants.

Microsoft continued building on machine translation Cognitive Services with announcing support for the customization of neural machine translation.

In addition, significant updates to Microsoft Translator text API version 3, unveiling a new version of the service natively using Neural Machine Translation was unveiled, too along with a new Microsoft Translator feature for Android making it possible to integrate translation capabilities into any app – even without an Internet connection.

Text Analytics, a cloud-based service that provides advanced natural language processing over raw text, performing sentiment analysis, key phrase extraction and language detection today, introduces an ability to perform entity identification and linking from raw text.

Entity linking recognizes and disambiguates well-known entities found in text such as people, places, organizations, and more while linking to more information on the web.

While, Language Understanding (LUIS) service simplifies the speech to intent process with a new integrated offer.

QnA Maker, a service that makes it possible respond to user’s questions in a more natural, conversational way is now generally available on Azure.

Microsoft also released two new apps for firstline workers— a Remote Assist, which enables remote collaboration via hands-free video calling, enablling firstline workers to share what they see with experts on Microsoft Teams, while staying hands on to solve problems and complete tasks together.

And the second app Microsoft Layout lets workers design spaces in context with mixed reality, using 3D models for creating room layouts with holograms.

Cognitive Services updates such as:

  • Computer Vision unlocks the knowledge stored in images. It now integrates an improved OCR model for English (in preview), and captioning expanded to new languages (Simplified Chinese, Japanese, Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese).
  • Custom Vision in preview makes it easy to build and refine customized image classifiers that can identify specific content in images. Today, we’re announcing that Custom Vision now performs object recognition as well. Developers can now use Custom Vision to train models that can recognize the precise location of specific objects in images. In addition, developers can now download Custom Vision models in three formats: TensorFlow, CoreML, and ONNX.
  • Content Moderator offers machine-assisted content moderation and human review tool. It now offers text classification to flag potentially adult, racy and offensive content, and human review capabilities for text and video moderation insights.
  • Video Indexer, the Cognitive Service that extracts insights from videos, can now be connected to an Azure account.

Cognitive Services labs providing developers with an early look, such as:

  • Project Answer Search help enhancing users’ search experience by automatically retrieving and displaying commonly known facts and information from across the internet.
  • Project URL in preview informs users’ social interactions by enabling creation of web page previews from a given URL or flagging adult content to suppress it.
  • Project Anomaly Finder enables developers to monitor their data over time and detect anomalies by automatically applying a statistical model.
  • Project Conversation Learner enables you to build and teach conversational interfaces that learn directly from example interactions. Spanning a broad set of task-oriented use cases, Project Conversation Learner applies machine learning behind the scenes to decrease manual coding of dialogue control logic.
  • Project Personality Chat makes intelligent agents more complete and conversational by handling common small talk in a consistent tone and fallback responses. Give your agent a personality by choosing from multiple default personas, and enhance it to create a character that aligns with your brand voice.
    Project Ink Analysis provides digital ink recognition and layout analysis through REST APIs. Using various machine learning techniques, the service analyzes the ink stroke input and provides information about the layout and contents of those ink strokes. Project Ink Analysis can be used for a variety of scenarios that involve ink to text as well as ink to shape conversions.

Custom Vision Service preview is an easy-to-use, customizable web service that learns to recognize specific content in imagery, now let you easily create custom image classification and object recognition models.

It’s powered by state-of-the-art machine learning neural networks that become more accurate with training. You can use it to:

  • upload and annotate images, train image classification models, and run the classifier as a Web service. t
  • to find – and label – specific objects within an image.
  • to create bounding boxes to specify the exact location of the objects you’re most interested in each image.

Microsoft Custom Vision Sevice

Azure IoT Edge will be in general availability in the next couple of months with many new added features and services which can be packaged from the cloud and deployed to the edge. Also, a new module “marketplace” will let anyone buy and sell logic for use on edge devices!

Below are some of the key innovations in Azure IoT Edge:

  • open sourcing Azure IoT Edge Runtime, allowing customers to modify the runtime, debug issues, and ultimately have more transparency and control for their applications at the edge.
  • Kubernetes support for IoT Edge so that you can use Kubernetes vocabulary and tech to manage the IoT Edge software stack running on your edge device.
  • hardware partnerships with HP, Avnet, Moxa, and others to make secure edge hardware to ensure IoT solutions are secure from chipset to the cloud.
  • expansion of Azure Certified for IoT program to support hardware for Azure IoT Edge and highlight hardware that can provide core functionalities such as AI, device management, and security promises.
  • DJI and Microsoft will develop commercial drone solutions for key vertical segments such as agriculture, construction and public safety. While with Qualcomm—Microsoft will create a vision AI dev kit running Azure IoT Edge, for camera-based IoT solutions. The camera can power advanced Azure services, like machine learning and cognitive services.

Custom Vision, the first Azure Cognitive Service available for the edge will help developers build apps that use powerful AI algorithms that interpret, listen, speak and see for edge devices.

Other advancements incldue a preview of Project Brainwave that makes Azure the fastest cloud to run real-time AI today is an architecture for deep neural net processing.

Azure Cognitive Services updates, that include:

  • a unified Speech service for easily adding speech recognition, text-to-speech, customized voice models and translation to applications.
  • Azure the best place to develop conversational AI experiences integrated with any agent.
  • updates to Bot Framework, combined with new Cognitive Services will power next gen conversational bots, enabling richer dialogs and full personality and voice customization to match a company’s brand identity.

Another new initiative called “Project Kinect for Azure,” a package of sensors with Azure AI contains time-of-flight depth camera with onboard compute.

Public preview release of Azure Machine Learning Packages for Computer Vision, Text Analytics, and Forecasting announced todday are Python pip-installable extensions for AML and provide a wide range of functional APIs to innovative, complex, and cumbersome techniques that are useful to solving data science problems in the domains of vision, text, and forecasting.

Additionally, the Azure ML Packages provide data scientists and AI developers with flexibility to utilize state of the art technologies by providing interoperability with common frameworks, such as keras, sckit-learn, Tensorflow, and CNTK.

Below you can read other Azure annoucments and updates available as on today:

Azure IoT Remote Monitoring, a solution accelerator that’s fully operational right out of the box, include new features such as: redesigned UI, enhanced operator scenarios, easier device connectivity, better maps, and richer integration options.

Azure Container Instances—a serverless way to run both Linux and Windows containers, is now available to the public. It offers an on-demand compute service delivering rapid deployment of containers with no virtual machine (VM) management and automatic, elastic scale.

Also, Microsoft announced new lower pricing, making it even more cost-effective to deploy a single container in the cloud.

Azure Container Registry with new enterprise lifecycle management features with a global footprint are now available, including:

  • General availability of Geo-replication, available across all public regions.
  • Preview of Azure Container Registry Build—a native container build service to support container lifecycle management including automated OS and framework patching — is now available in East US and will be available in West Europe at //build.
  • Preview of the Quarantine pattern, enabling secure by default registries that lock all image pulls until vulnerability scanners have approved the image. We continue to partner with Aqua and Twistlock to create and ship the experience.

Azure IoT Hub on Azure Stack will allow you to run IoT workloads on own data centers. When the integration is complete, you will be able to connect, monitor, and manage IoT devices in on-premises scenarios.

Support for Cloud Events in Azure Event Grid is now available in preview is developed as a part of the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF) in partnership with Microsoft, Google, IBM, Oracle, and other cloud vendors.

This standard will allow the building of applications that span multiple clouds for event-driven scenarios.

Durable Functions extension in Azure Functions is now available and is used to build long-running, stateful function orchestrations in code using C# in a serverless environment. Developers will be able to implement many new scenarios not previously possible, including complex chaining scenarios, fan in/fan out patterns, stateful actors, and scenarios with long callbacks.

Azure SignalR Service a fully-managed service that allows developers to focus on building real-time web experiences without worrying about capacity provisioning, reliable connections, scaling, encryption, or authentication.

Azure Blockchain Workbench preview is a new developer tool that makes it easier to build blockchain applications on Azure. Available now in Azure Marketplace, this offering will reduce proof-of-concept development by roughly ten times, enabling businesses to spend less time on infrastructure scaffolding and more time refining use cases and building-in application logic.

With a few simple clicks, you can deploy an Azure-supported blockchain network that’s pre-integrated with a set of cloud services commonly needed to create a working blockchain applications, like Azure Active Directory, Key Vault, and SQL Database.

Multi-container support from Azure App Service now let you easily deploy your Docker Compose or Kubernetes Pod definition to App Service on Linux and use powerful App Service capabilities such as built-in CI/CD, auto scaling, and intelligent diagnostics.

Updates to Azure Media Services and Video Indexer making it easier for developers to integrate advanced media processing and AI-based media metadata extraction on their apps and workflows.

Developers can access the new Azure Media Services API update that surfaces a simplified development model, enables a better integration experience with key Azure services like Event Grid and Functions, and a new set of SDKs for the most demanded developer languages.

While, Video Indexer, an AI-based media metadata extraction service, will allow users to go beyond the limit of resources available on the trial experience by enabling them to connect the web, or its API, to an Azure subscription.

App Service on Linux in preview on App Service Environment makes it easy to deploy Linux web apps in an Azure Virtual Network with App Service Environment, accessing resources in that Virtual Network and across VPN connections.

Azure App Service updates include new capabilities to make mundane developer tasks simpler are now available:

  • App Service Diagnostics now supports Linux-based apps, integrates with App Insights, and provides additional analytics.
  • Remote debugging is now in preview for container-based apps, and developers can use their preferred SSH client.
  • EasyAuth has also been extended to App Service on Linux.

Azure Cosmos DB bulk executor library now available for download in .NET via Nuget and Java via Maven let you import and migrate large datasets efficiently into Azure Cosmos DB collections within minutes using the library.

The library can also be used to perform bulk updates (patches) of existing data stored in Azure Cosmos DB. Get started with samples in .NET and Java.

In private preview, Azure Cosmos DB offers multi-master support at global scale together with low latency and high availability, tunable consistency models, and comprehensive and flexible conflict resolution support.

Azure Cosmos DB can now be provision throughput at database level in preview. You must be an exisitng Azure Cosmos DB customer with multiple collections.

In public Virtual Network Service Endpoint helps to ensure access to Azure Cosmos DB from the preferred virtual network subnet. The feature will remove the manual change of IP and provide an easier way to manage access to Azure Cosmos DB endpoint.

Azure Cognitive Search a preview feature in existing Azure Search service, includes an enrichment pipeline allowing you to find rich structured information from documents.

That information can then become part of your Azure Search index. Cognitive Search also integrates with natural language processing capabilities and includes built-in enrichers called cognitive skills. Built-in skills help to perform a variety of enrichment tasks, such as extracting entities from text, or image analysis and OCR capabilities.

Cognitive Search is also extensible and can connect to your own custom-built skills.

Aailable to public, Azure SQL Database and Data Warehouse transparent data encryption offers Bring Your Own Key (BYOK) support with Azure Key Vault integration. Azure Key Vault provides highly available and scalable secure storage for RSA cryptographic keys backed by FIPS 140-2 Level 2 validated hardware security modules (HSMs).

Key Vault streamlines the key management process and enables you to maintain full control of encryption keys and allows you to manage and audit key access.

Azure Maps (formerly known as Azure Location Based Services) now in general availability is fully supported with an SLA and allows seamlessly integrate mapping, search, routing, traffic, and time zone capabilities into your enterprise applications.

You can make your application location-aware with following features:

  • Search — Create apps that provide details about a point of interest (POI), including contact information, hours of operation, a location pinpointed on a map, and directions to its address. Search for businesses by name, category, or what’s closest to you.
  • Maps — Integrate clear, easy-to-read maps into your solutions with the JavaScript Map Control APIs or the Render API. The maps update dynamically so your customers get constantly refreshed information.
  • Geocoding — Make apps that turn latitude and longitude coordinates into street addresses, and switch street addresses to map coordinates. Use this data to help ensure customers, goods, and drivers get to destinations on time.
  • Traffic — Develop mobility solutions that improve travel time and avoid gridlock. You get multiple alternate routes around traffic jams, insight into the length of the backup and the time it may take to get through it, and faster travel during rush hour.
  • Routing — Give your solutions the ability to navigate the shortest or fastest routes available — to multiple destinations at a time — or provide specialized routes and facts for walkers, bicyclists, and commercial vehicles.

New Azure Active Directory (AD) authentication method for SQL Database, is now available to public and supports Azure AD Multi-Factor Authentication for two communication drivers for Windows — the latest .Net and ODBC.

The new authentication method Interactive is also supported in the SQL Server Data Tool (SSDT) and is available with the latest Visual Studio release.

Azure Lab Services preview is an expansion of Azure DevTest Labs, which allows customers to create fully customized, shareable, and secure labs. This includes both centralized settings for billing, governance, compliance, security, and distributed ability to create and use resources within the lab.

Azure Lab Services introduces lab archetypes that make creating a lab for some of the common customer scenarios (like classrooms, trial, and development and testing) even easier. Plus, Azure Lab Services introduces a new and simple web interface for setup and use of labs.

Azure SQL Data Warehouse Gen2 tier is now generally available is a performance-optimized tier takes advantage of the latest generation of Azure hardware to dramatically improve compute and storage scalability.

In addition to performance improvements, SQL Data Warehouse can now be provisioned with five times the computing power and unlimited storage capacity, making it suitable for the most intensive analytics workloads.

This new performance optimized tier will be rolled out to 22 regions initially, with subsequent rollouts to other regions.

Azure Database Migration Service is now available is designed to provide a seamless, end-to-end solution for moving on-premises SQL Server, Oracle, and other relational databases to the Azure Data platform.

The service supports migration of homogeneous/heterogeneous source-target pairs, and the guided migration process is easy to understand and implement.

Azure API Management delivers a comprehensive solution for publishing, managing, securing, and measuring APIs. With API Management customers can catalog and expose all APIs in one place, connect to back end services on Azure and outside, optimize and protect the APIs, manage API lifecycle, and offer a first-rate developer experience.

Azure Monitor will now track the health and performance of Azure Container Service cluster. You can view the performance at different levels of your Kubernetes cluster, and can access all your container logs from a centralized location.

General availability of Microsoft Azure mobile app on iOS and Android platforms let you monitor the health and status of your Azure resources, quickly diagnose and fix issues, and run Azure CLI or Power Shell commands to manage your resources right from your iOS or Android device.

Azure Content Delivery Network Standard Microsoft tier in preview makes Microsoft’s own global edge and Content Delivery Network service available to Azure customers. In addition, with Standard Microsoft, customers will have access to new features such as:

  • On-by-default regional caching that enables customers to improve performance and reduce load on their origins.
  • Bring-your-own-SSL certificate that enables customers to better tailor their services to their needs.
  • Customers will use the same, familiar Azure Content Delivery Network portal experience to create and operate Standard Microsoft.

Azure Storage Explorer now generally available help easily manage different storage entities in one place from Linux, macOS, and Windows. Some benefits, include:

  • Access multiple accounts and subscriptions across Azure, Azure Stack, and the sovereign cloud.
  • Create, edit, view, upload, download, and delete storage resources such as blobs, queues, tables, files, Data Lake (in preview) and Cosmos DB (in preview).
  • Share storage resources by sharing SAS URLs or direct links.

This release also includes a new authentication library for sharing account information with Visual Studio, enhanced accessibility support, and an open collaboration and feedback channel using GitHub.

Managed Service Identity gives Azure service an automatically managed identity in Azure Active Directory (Azure AD). Use this identity to authenticate to any service that supports Azure AD authentication, without having any credentials in your code.

Update 05/09: Microsoft uploaded an interactive demonstration of the Intelligent Edge. Why is it intelligent? What’s the edge? And why’s it so darn important? Find out the answers in the video embedded below:

Microsoft Intune announces support for enrollment of Samsung devices using Knox Mobile Enrollment. This capability currently supports device admin for enterprise use, but it’ll be extend to device owner enrollments in forthcoming release, said Microsoft.

Here’s how it works as Microsoft explains, “IT admins can select Intune Company Portal app to configure MDM profiles in Knox Portal and optionally, associate usernames with devices.” For end-users, the Intune enrollment experience is seamlessly available out-of-box set-up experience.

When the device is connected to Internet for the first time, “it automatically installs and launches Intune Company Portal app and enrolls to Intune as part of new device set-up experience. If IT admin has associated username and device, it’s pre-populated in Company Portal. End-users then only need to enter their work or school account password to enroll devices. Pre-populated username also prevents enrolling using a different username after the device has been factory-reset or removed from Intune management by the end-user.”

A roll out of the redesigned and improved parenetal conset capabilities to Microsoft Account in European Union was announced on Tuesday, as part of the General Data Privacy Regulations (GDPR).

“GDPR requires parents to provide their consent to process the personal data of children younger than 16 years old. EU member states may choose to set a lower age – which some have done – provided it isn’t lower than age 13. The U.S. Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) and GDPR have a lot of overlap, so we have worked to combine and meet the stricter standards across the board.”

A preview of Google Android emulator compatible with Hyper-V is now available on Windows 10 April 2018 Update. This feature enables developers with Hyper-V enabled on their machines to use a hardware accelerated Android emulator, without needing to switch to Intel’s HAXM hypervisor.

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