Silicon Valley

The cloud is no longer just a data dump—it’s an AI battleground, and Amazon wants to beat all comers into submission.

The ethereal digital realm that we know as the cloud started as a remote space to store files and run some code. Put the two together—data and algorithms—and you have the ideal place to run AI, letting it chomp through information and do smart things with it. Big tech firms know that, and as we’ve explained before, competition has become fierce to provide AI on remote servers as a service to developers. Now the cloud computing leader, Amazon Web Services, has AI-savvy firms like Microsoft and Google nipping at its heels.

But at an event in Las Vegas on Wednesday, Amazon made it clear: being pushed around is not an option. In fact, it’s announced a raft of new AI services that it hopes will allow it to stave off competition and maintain its cloud lead.

Chief among the new offerings are a series of off-the-shelf AI software packages that users can run on Amazon’s servers. There’s Transcribe, which converts speech in audio files into clean, time-stamped, punctuated text. Translate uses deep learning to shift texts between seven languages. Comprehend can detect sentiment in text. And Rekognition can detect and track people, activities, and objects in video. None of that is new technology, but the idea here is to make it easy for newbie developers to embrace AI on Amazon’s cloud.

Elsewhere, the firm has also launched an AI development platform called SageMaker, which is designed to make it easier for developers to build and train their own neural networks and run them on petabyte-scale data sets. And there’s also a new deep-learning-enabled programmable video camera, called DeepLens (pictured above), that is powerful enough to run its own AI algorithms and seems to be intended as a gateway for developers keen to understand what AI can do when combined with hardware.

All of this sends a very clear message from Amazon: it wants to make using AI on its cloud as easy as possible, like tossing a few files up on Dropbox (almost). It’s a savvy move, and the off-the-shelf algorithms in particular will no doubt prove popular with companies that want to start using AI but don’t quite know how. Will it be enough to fend off rivals? That remains to be seen.