First look: Google Cloud Machine Learning soars

Four, rich, pretrained machine learning APIs bring the smarts behind Google to your apps

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In the 2016 Google Founder’s Letter, CEO Sundar Pichai cited Google’s long-term investment in machine learning and AI. “It’s what allows you to use your voice to search for information,” he explained, “to translate the web from one language to another, to filter the spam from your inbox, to search for ‘hugs’ in your photos and actually pull up pictures of people hugging ... to solve many of the problems we encounter in daily life. It’s what has allowed us to build products that get better over time, making them increasingly useful and helpful.”

In addition to using machine learning for its own products, Google has released several applied machine learning services -- for vision, speech, natural language, and translation -- and has open-sourced its TensorFlow scalable machine learning package. An additional service based on TensorFlow, the Cloud Machine Learning Platform, is still in a closed alpha test phase. I hope to review the Cloud Machine Learning Platform and TensorFlow later this year.

In this preview, I’ll take a close look at the Google Cloud Vision, Cloud Speech, Cloud Natural Language, and Cloud Translate APIs, and compare them to competitive pretrained services from HPE, IBM, and Microsoft. While Amazon and Databricks also compete in cloud machine learning prediction, they don’t offer pretrained APIs.

All four Google machine learning APIs are managed by the Google Cloud Platform Console, and all have RESTful interfaces; some also have RPC interfaces. There are three authentication options; which one to use depends on the API and the use case.

Although it’s easy enough to construct REST client calls in any language that supports HTTP requests and responses, Google may supply client libraries for C#, Dart, Go, Java, JavaScript (browser), Node.js, Objective-C, PHP, Python, and Ruby, depending on the API. I did most of my experimentation in Python, and I used the supplied HTML forms for constructing and testing REST calls.

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