Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O) on Wednesday turned up the heat on other technology giants by launching new image and video recognition products which could help it court businesses worried about running ads next to offensive content.
The Redmond, Washington-based company said its new Video Indexer can identify faces, voices and emotions in moving pictures. Separately, its Custom Vision Search lets companies build apps that recognise images with just a few lines of code.
For brands, knowing what's in the videos that they sponsor has become a hot-button issue since major companies began cancelling ad deals with Alphabet Inc's (GOOGL.O) Google this year over hate speech playing on its subsidiary YouTube.
Microsoft's Video Indexer has similarities to a tool Google launched in March; Amazon.com Inc (AMZN.O) also said last month it could flag insulting images via a cloud-based service.
Microsoft's latest moves underscore how its focus has evolved from its staple Windows software to the cloud, where it is competing with Amazon to sell data storage and computing power. Extra analytics such as image recognition may prove key to luring Web developers.
"It’s hard to understand what's in the video" the longer it is, said Irving Kwong, a senior product director at Microsoft, in an interview ahead of the company's developer conference Build.
He said Video Indexer, which analyses videos far faster than humans can, could help a user "harness and get more out of the video content that you have."
The tools launched in preview by the Microsoft Cognitive Services unit on Wednesday, including a decision recommendation service, have one aim apart from winning business: data.
Microsoft views the tools as a way to put powerful computing into people's hands and improve the tools at the same time, because processing more data is key to reaching artificial intelligence. Others including Amazon are pursuing this strategy, with the prize being a new revenue stream.
Research firm International Data Corporation has forecast the market for such tools will balloon to over $47 billion in sales in 2020 from $8 billion in 2016.
Microsoft pulled back the curtain on experiments that are further afield, too. It announced a new Cognitive Labs unit and the so-called Project Prague: technology to allow people to control computers simply with hand gestures.
(Reporting by Jeffrey Dastin in San Francisco; editing by Jason Neely)