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Microsoft today announced several improvements to its pre-built AI tools for companies, with a focus on improving facial recognition, custom image classification, and understanding important entities. The updates are included in the company’s suite of Cognitive Services — APIs that help developers deliver intelligent capabilities even if they don’t have a great deal of AI expertise.

The three updated services — Microsoft’s Custom Vision Service, Face API, and Bing Entity Search — are designed to make AI easier for companies that can’t keep a professional data scientist on staff. That’s important, given the limited number of AI experts currently available, how much they cost to hire, and how complicated the task of rolling your own AI capabilities can be.

The Custom Vision Service is now in paid public beta. It allows companies to train their own image classification tools for specific tasks (like identifying different types of birds or distinguishing between varieties of cucumber) without building their own AI models. Microsoft previously made it available as a free public preview.

Models created using the Custom Vision Service can be exported from Microsoft’s cloud and deployed on smartphones using Apple’s CoreML framework and Google’s TensorFlow. That means it’s possible to use them without the latency issues generated by phoning home to a Microsoft server.

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Meanwhile, Microsoft’s Face API received an update that allows customers to train it on recognizing up to a million faces, allowing it to distinguish between many more people than before or add additional fidelity to face detection of a smaller group of folks. That’s key for applications like intelligent security systems that recognize when people enter a building.

Finally, the Bing Entity Search service is now generally available. This service, which uses the knowledge graph powering Microsoft’s search engine, allows developers to query for particularly famous people, places, and things and get pertinent information back. This can be used for applications like an app that displays information about the professional basketball players users tend to search for.

These updates are key for Microsoft as it continues to compete against a slew of other cloud providers and startups jockeying to provide companies with intelligent capabilities for their applications. Amazon, Google, and IBM all offer their own suites of AI-based APIs.

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