Microsoft Upgrades Azure AI to Analyze Health Records and Streamline Voice App Creation
Microsoft’s artificial intelligence services are now able to mine electronic medical records for new insight and simplify building or improving voice apps after a spate of updates to the Azure AI platform. Azure Cognitive Services provides enterprise-level AI services to companies who want to apply artificial intelligence to their work.
The COVID-19 health crisis has accelerated the use of AI as a doctor’s assistant in record-keeping. Azure connects doctor’s notes and conversations with patients to electronic medical records both through the Project EmpowerMD Intelligent Scribe Service and as a host platform for Nuance’s virtual assistant for doctors after the two companies reached an agreement last fall. Now, Azure can help medical professionals glean new conclusions from that data using Text Analytics for health. Microsoft took the existing Text Analytics feature and trained it on medical data like clinical notes and protocols to let it understand how to find and to share insights from the huge amounts of medical data doctors normally have to pore through manually to find patterns. Though still in previews, Microsoft worked with research groups to create a search engine specifically about COVID-19 using both Text Analytics and Cognitive Search that should help those hunting for treatments for the virus. The updated Text Analytics feature is able to not only analyze facts, but to apply emotional tags to topics in any context, whether healthcare, sales, or another industry.
“As the world adjusts to new ways of working and staying connected, we remain committed to providing Azure AI solutions to help organizations invent with purpose,” Azure AI corporate vice president Eric Boyd wrote in the announcement. “Building on our vision to empower all developers to use AI to achieve more, today we’re excited to announce expanded capabilities within Azure Cognitive Services.”
Microsoft is also opening up the Form Recognizer feature it showcased a little over a year ago to all Azure users. Form Recognizer is designed to use the AI to grasp what a form full of data in tables and non-standard formats means, and to pull out that information for easier analysis. While likely applicable to some of the forms used in healthcare, Microsoft specifically cited financial organizations such as Capgemini Group’s Sogeti and Wilson Allen as finding value in the feature for processing loan applications and other fiduciary paperwork.
Azure didn’t neglect the voice facet of its AI in the update either. Most notably, it made Custom Commands universally available to developers. Custom Commands simplifies connecting voice apps to devices that can be controlled within straightforward parameters like light levels or the temperature on a thermostat. The AI comes with a wide range of commands it understands in its templates and the ability to switch among different topics and types of requests automatically.
“People and organizations continue to look for ways to enrich customer experiences while balancing the transition to digital-led, touch-free operations,” Boyd wrote. “Advancements in voice technology are empowering developers to create more seamless, natural, voice-enabled experiences for customers to interact with brands. [Custom Commands] brings together Speech to Text for speech recognition, Language Understanding for capturing spoken entities, and voice response with Text to Speech, to accelerate the addition of voice capabilities to your apps with a low-code authoring experience.”
Those capabilities include 15 new voices built with Azure’s Neural Text to Speech tech. The voices are designed to sound natural, using real people’s voices to teach the AI to sound like a human. The voices include a mix of new languages and dialects as well as new voices for languages already used by the AI. The new voices include two kinds of Arabic, Catalan, Cantonese, and Taiwanese Mandarin among others. It’s the same technology used by the BBC to build its new Beeb voice assistant, but points to the global enterprises Microsoft hopes will use Azure’s technology.