The hospital is previewing both the future of health care and of Microsoft’s business. It’s using a suite of new “cognitive” services recently added to Microsoft’s cloud computing service, called Azure. The company says renting out its machine-learning technology will unlock new profits, and enable companies of all kinds to subject their data—and customers—to artificial-intelligence techniques previously limited to computing giants.
Google announced in June that it had invented a new kind of chip to accelerate machine-learning software and make its cloud services more competitive. The company lags Amazon and Microsoft in the cloud market, and CEO Sundar Pichai has said machine-learning services provide a way for Google to differentiate itself. Amazon’s cloud division, Amazon Web Services, launched its first machine-learning cloud services last year, and in June the group’s head, Andy Jassy, pledged to expand them significantly in the coming months.
Microsoft has an API that tries to decipher facial expressions, for example. IBM has one that assesses the personality of the author of text such as social media posts. Marketing company Influential uses it to help brands such as Corona and Red Bull identify the most useful social media users for promotional efforts. Different APIs can be combined. For example, a company could set up a system that spots its logo in social media images, notes the facial expression of any people in the photo, and extracts key terms from any accompanying text.