Much of the conversation about machine learning taking jobs focuses on the future, but Microsoft boasted its cloud service has already managed to claim one human’s position. The Custom Decision Service, which the company introduced at its Build conference last month, took over at one of Microsoft’s customers, according to Jennifer Chayes, a distinguished scientist at the company’s research arm.

“One of the startups, they were really pressed for funds, got rid of their one data scientist because this worked so much better than their data scientist,” she said during an on stage interview at a Bloomberg event in San Francisco today.

It’s likely that the scientist in question was able to find a new job fairly quickly, given the massive demand for data science skills. But it shows the rapidly shifting landscape for data science in an age of cloud services that can provide quick insights without as much manual intervention.

The Custom Decision Service is Microsoft’s tool for personalizing content using reinforcement learning. Users provide a feed of content to the system, and it sends back a recommended order for displaying that content to users on a page. CDS is built on the same technology that powers Microsoft products like MSN.

Microsoft, Google, Amazon, IBM, and others are all offering their own suites of services that provide advanced machine learning capabilities through APIs. It’s part of those companies’ push to democratize the field of machine learning by making it possible for businesses to reap the rewards of machine intelligence without a data science team.

In some companies, those services can be used to augment human data scientists, but they can also help provide those capabilities to businesses without requiring them to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars a year for a human to provide insights.

“I’ve talked to big companies which have hundreds of data scientists working on various things, and they said this would be incredible, because they could use this for [their] A/B testing online,” Chayes said.

Microsoft’s push with AI APIs has been a boon to companies like Human Interact, which is able to build a virtual reality game that responds to human voice input using custom speech recognition, without a team of data scientists to create those speech models from scratch.


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