Microsoft Eyes Visual Studio-Like Toolset for Machine Learning

Microsoft is working on a project to bring a Visual Studio-like tooling and infrastructure platform to developers building machine learning apps.

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Microsoft appears to be working on a new toolset for machine learning known as Open Mind Studio, which has been described as the Visual Studio for machine learning.

Qi Lu, Microsoft's executive vice president of Applications and Services, introduced the concept of Open Mind Studio in a talk titled "Machine Learning @ Microsoft" at the Stanford Scaled Machine Learning Conference earlier this month. The talk was highlighted here and here.

Although Microsoft would not comment on the platform beyond Lu's slides, it appears that Open Mind Studio will consist of data, model, algorithm, pipeline, experiment and life cycle management components to help provide programming abstractions for machine learning.

Machine learning and artificial intelligence in general have become top of mind for leading technology vendors, and Microsoft has been among the pioneers in researching new ways to apply machine learning to make computing easier and more efficient for users.

Indeed, machine learning has been pervasive across Microsoft products. Machine learning, or ML, has found its way into more and more Microsoft technologies, including Bing, Skype, Kinect, HoloLens and Windows Phone. Whenever you use the search engine Bing, you're using many components that have been trained with machine learning. In addition, Microsoft is using machine learning in security. The company arms its malware analysts with machine learning-driven technology, both to give the analysts "superpowers" to make them much more effective at searching through lots of data and also by autonomously helping to find malware authors.

Microsoft has taken its own path in the quest to deliver cognitive computing technology to consumers, competing with the likes of IBM, Google, Amazon and others. Cognitive computing encompasses various forms of artificial intelligence (AI), including machine learning, reasoning, natural language processing, speech and vision, human-computer interaction, dialog and narrative generation, and more. However, cognitive computing is but a subset of AI.

According to Lu's slides, the Open Mind Studio project will rely on a federated infrastructure of data storage, compliance, resource management, scheduling and deployment components. The platform will support Microsoft's open-source deep learning toolkit, the Computational Network Toolkit (CNTK). According to Microsoft Research, CNTK is a unified computational network framework that describes deep neural networks as a series of computational steps via a directed graph. In a directed graph, each node represents an input value or a network parameter, and each edge represents a matrix operation upon its children.

CNTK provides algorithms to carry out both forward computation and gradient calculation, Microsoft said. Lu described CNTK as Microsoft's open-source, cross-platform toolkit for learning and evaluating models, especially deep neural networks.

Open Mind Studio also will integrate with other non-Microsoft deep learning frameworks such as TensorFlow, Caffe, MxNet, Theano and Torch, as well as with open-source computation frameworks including Hadoop and Spark. In addition, the project will support specialized, optimized computation frameworks such as Microsoft's SCOPE and ChaNa.