Microsoft Research advances machine intelligence with automatic captioning

Cortana

Last year, we reported that a group of interns at Microsoft Research had created an automatic captioning system, allowing a machine to look at an image and describe its contents. Since then, this project has advanced considerably, and is now a core part of Microsoft Research’s overall strategy, as revealed in a new blog post.

Machine intelligence, the creation of the first ‘true’ A.I, has been a stated goal of Microsoft for several years now. Aided by advancements in cloud computing and machine learning techniques, work in this area is fast progressing. However, this new front being explored by Microsoft Research is of special significance for the project as a whole.

Typically what is defined as ‘intelligence’ varies greatly between different scientific disciplines, but by no conventional means are current systems ‘intelligent’. Though our super-computers can perform calculations in a billionth of a second, asking them to interpret their environment and exercise simple language skills is something else altogether. As such, this has become a particular challenge for researchers over the years.

Captioning

Microsoft Research’s work on this front is ground-breaking in the fact that it works around the concept of neural networks, electronics created to resemble the human brain in some regards, allowing enhanced capabilities in different areas. Though this practice is common in other fields of engineering, such as taking inspiration from insects and birds for aviation design, new knowledge about the human brain gained in the last few years has allowed for significant advances.

What the implications for Microsoft will be in the present are hardly as important as the potential future consequences. Taking Halo as a model, the goal is to ensure that Bing and Cortana become the most advanced A.I offerings on the planet, allowing the benefits of their machine intelligence to be accessed by the public and enterprise community through products such as Azure.

Whether one step further to Elon Musk’s worst nightmare, or a utopian do-nothing future, this is an important gain in the field of A.I research.

Do you believe the singularity will come soon? Let us know in the comments below.

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