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Summary:

Microsoft keeps rolling out new features in Bing that it claims make it superior to, or at least more interesting, than Google’s dominant search engine. They’re not the sexiest applications of artificial intelligence, but they are easy, practical and tied to big money.

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With all the money being spent on, and all the futuristic talk about about big data, machine learning, artificial intelligence and all things in between, it’s easy to forget that Microsoft and Google — two of the companies leading research in these technologies — still have large businesses in web search. So as cool and potentially life-altering as AI might be in fields such as medicine, we’ll probably continue to see the signs of things to come in search engines first.

It’s big business and a great testing ground.

Take, for example, Microsoft Bing’s new predictions feature that tries to predict the outcomes of popular fan-voting show such as The Voice, American Idol and Dancing with the Stars. Bing does this by analyzing a number of signals, including searches, Twitter and Facebook data, and, presumably the outcomes of previous episodes. (Hat tip to Search Engine Land for spotting this Bing blog post, as well as the following one.)

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Microsoft is also boasting about how Bing’s image search — which includes filters for all sorts of variables — is superior to Google’s image search. A blog post explaining the differences reads like an homage to advances in computer vision and object recognition (and, very possibly, deep learning) without ever mentioning those terms. Google, of course, has been using these technologies to power new image search features, too.

Images of George Clooney filtered by those showing head and shoulders.

Images of George Clooney filtered by those showing head and shoulders.

Might improved machine learning someday give us better teleconferencing, better office software and a Terminator-like view of the world around us, or help doctors better analyze cancer cells? Sure. But first it will make sure we don’t waste our time looking at poor-quality celebrity pics or betting on reality show losers.

For more on the importance of machine learning and AI research at companies like Microsoft, check out this talk from Stucture Data with Microsoft Research machine learning manager John Platt.

  1. And Information Extraction technologies can even help improve some of the sexier applications like question-answering:

    http://www.reddit.com/r/thisisthewayitwillbe/comments/23jphl/a_new_questionanswering_system_beats_standard/

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  2. Google + Facebook + Microsoft are key players in the future of Machine Learning and artificial intelligence but also startups are important for pushing innovation in the area. For example, we have just launched the private alpha of our new text mining toolkit called MonkeyLearn. You should check it out if you are interested in Machine Learning and text classification: http://www.monkeylearn.com/

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