From advancing medical research, diagnoses, and treatments, to increasing farm yields, the wonders of the Microsoft AI platform and Cognitive Services stack continue to dazzle us with possibilities. The ability to interact with computers in our own language, make decisions based on probabilities (predictive analytics) and deliver solutions built from data (machine learning) is transforming software development to the point that organizations worldwide are already seeing positive returns on their AI spending.

There is a human element to AI that we often overlook with bot services. That computers can now infer what we want and interact with us to provide relevant information allows us to convey our intent using natural language. With Microsoft's cross-platform capabilities and Language Understanding intelligent service (LUIS), announced today, we now have tools to build language models that identify intent through any application or bot service and will respond accordingly.

Language models that allow apps or bots to understand our intent are creating some amazing opportunities for our partners. IDC sees the compound annual growth rate for AI spending near 50% in the U.S. and even higher in Asia/Pacific. According IDC surveys, 67% of organizations globally have already adopted or plan to adopt AI. And many adopters have seen returns that meet or exceed expectations, leading many to increase spending on AI in the next two years. This not only yields to great margin opportunities for partners, but also the chance to help make other's lives better.

And here's the good news: partners don't have to employ a staff of data scientists to build very capable AI solutions. Let's look at an example of how one partner is building the human connection with AI to empower children with Autism.

This touches my heart in a very personal way, as my three-year-old son, who struggles with speech (he has less than 20 words), is being evaluated for autism. Thankfully, Equadex™, a developer ISV based in France, is helping children communicate with AI solutions.

Helping autistic children communicate

Several Equadex™, employees have personal experience with autism, which inspired the company to develop a way to facilitate communication between people on the autism spectrum who are nonverbal or have language difficulties with their parents, teachers and medical providers.

"We wanted to deliver to the market an innovative technology that could translate natural language into a universal form that someone who is nonverbal could use and understand," explains Anthony Allebée, Chief Technology Officer at Equadex™, "In the past, families and an attendant used a physical binder containing pictogram cards to communicate. Family members lined up the appropriate cards to construct a sentence and showed that to the child. But this required carrying the binder from room to room, and pictogram cards could get lost or misplaced."

Equadex™ created Helpicto™ an app for tablets and smartphones containing a database of pictograms made for mobile. The app can convert spoken text into series of images. Rather than build the AI technology from scratch, Equadex™ found its solution with Microsoft Cognitive Services APIs, and the Microsoft Azure cloud platform. Cognitive Services is the AI technology that applies intelligent algorithms to understand and interpret your needs through natural methods of communication and the tools available.

When someone speaks a command into the app, the Bing Speech API converts it into a sentence in real time, then, LUIS analyzes the command to determine its intent and Helpicto™ uses this information to retrieve the appropriate images from its database. For example, the question, "Do you want to eat an apple?" produces pictures of the child, the action of eating, and an apple, along with on-screen buttons for "yes" and "no".

The app uses Azure Functions and Azure SQL Database to manage data processing and storage. The team at Equadex™ also incorporated the Computer Vision API into the app to recognize images and included the ability to add keywords to help properly classify each image. This gave users the ability to add their own photographs to the app to help people with language difficulties or are nonverbal be even more familiar with the results.

Equadex™ hopes that in the future it can also improve communication for nonverbal children and adults with other conditions that make communicating verbally difficult, such as Alzheimer's disease. The company currently offers the app on the French market but intends to release it globally, and the partnership with Microsoft is an important part of that goal.

AI: The Key Differentiator Across Industry

It's not just newly imagined solutions like Equadex's application that benefit from AI innovation. Partners are using AI technologies pragmatically to differentiate their current services, so they can re-engage customers with end-to-end systems that learn from data and experience to deliver new insights and efficiencies.

As I have shared before, specialization with an industry focus can create additional margins and customer value. In healthcare, experts are now able to predict the onset of conditions by building predictive models from scans or data from wearable devices, helping providers deliver timelier treatment at less cost.

Think of the innovation that could be expanded across other industries that are ripe for AI solutions such as financial services, manufacturing, education, retail, etc. On the business side, human resource departments are using performance analytics and machine learning to predict retention and development needs of employees and candidates. Marketers are using stream analytics and machine learning to customize and optimize customer experiences.

The examples go on and on, but in each case intelligent technology is being used to extend and augment human capabilities, freeing people up to be more strategic and productive.

Coming Soon: The AI Practice Development Playbook

To assist in building your AI-focused practice, we'll launch the Artificial Intelligence Practice Development Playbook in January 2018. Like all our playbooks, this one will help you accelerate your practice with guidance and resources around developing your strategy, gaining skills, and marketing and selling your service offerings.

Artificial intelligence is one of those transformative technologies that spans all verticals and company sizes. The possibilities are endless when you combine human-like cognitive abilities with the speed, memory, calculation and organizational capabilities of computers.

Stay tuned for more on growing your AI practice. How are you growing your AI practice? Please share below along with any questions you have.