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Google tool lets you train AI without writing code

Cloud AutoML could make AI accessible to a much wider audience.
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Bloomberg via Getty Images

In many ways, the biggest challenge in widening the adoption of AI isn't making it better -- it's making the tech accessible to more companies. You typically need at least some programming to train a machine learning system, which rules it out for companies that can't justify a data scientist for the task. Google may have a solution: it just unveiled an alpha release of Cloud AutoML Vision, its first in a set of tools that trains AI without requiring code. This first service trains image recognition systems using a drag-and-drop interface -- you just have to load photos, tag them and start the training process.

As mentioned at AutoML's preview back in May, Google is actually using "baby" neural networks to build these systems. It iterates the mini nets with reinforcement training and picks the best one from the bunch.

Not surprisingly, this costs money: you have to apply for access, and you'll be charged fees for both training the models and accessing them. You won't be using this to indulge in a hobby. However, this promises to make AI, and image recognition in particular, much more accessible. While there are already custom AI options (Microsoft can fine-tune its trained AI models for you), Google's approach is simple and hands-on enough that your favorite website or device maker could roll AI into their products with relatively little effort.

There are already some practical examples. Disney, for instance, is using Cloud AutoML to help you search for products on its store based on what they look like, not arbitrary tags. You can find that Buzz Lightyear toy even if it's been miscategorized. Conservationists at the Zoological Society of London, meanwhile, are hoping to automatically categorize animals that pass by wildlife cameras. While there will still be a need for advanced, manually programmed AI, it won't be as essential as it used to be.

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