Facebook and Microsoft join forces to make life easier for AI developers

8 Sep 2017

Image: Zapp2Photo/Shutterstock

This collaboration between Facebook and Microsoft will optimise accessibility and value in the AI community.

Announced yesterday (7 September), Facebook and Microsoft’s artificial intelligence (AI) collaboration is known as Open Neural Network Exchange (ONNX).

The initiative was described in a Facebook blog post – written by director of applied machine learning, Joaquin Quiñonero Candela – as “the first step toward an open ecosystem where AI developers can easily move between state-of-the-art tools, and choose the combination that is best for them”.

Bridging the gaps in AI

ONNX is the product of two companies joining forces to provide an open-source AI resource catalogue. The crucial element here is that developers will be able to switch between various engines depending on the developmental stage of each respective project.

Candela said: “Many organisations are left without a good way to bridge the gap between these operating modes and have resorted to a range of creative workarounds to cope, such as requiring researchers [to] work in the production system or translating models by hand.

“We developed ONNX together with Microsoft to bridge this gap and to empower AI developers to choose the framework that fits the current stage of their project and easily switch between frameworks as the project evolves.”

Caffe2, PyTorch and Cognitive Toolkit will all release support for ONNX in September, allowing models trained in one framework to be exported to another for evaluation purposes.

By removing the barriers between the frameworks, research will develop much faster, meaning the commercialised future of AI products will be here sooner than we may have thought.

Working together to improve AI research

Candela stated that collaboration has always been part of the deep learning strategy at Facebook: “When we have a breakthrough, we’d like to make the better technologies available to people as soon as possible in our applications. With ONNX, we are focused on bringing the worlds of AI research and products closer together so that we can innovate and deploy faster.”

Eric Boyd, chief vice-president of AI data and infrastructure at Microsoft, said the company is committed to making AI more accessible for everyone. The Cognitive Toolkit, Microsoft’s own AI framework, is available to do just that.

He concluded: “Developers can choose the right framework for their task, framework authors can focus on innovative enhancements and hardware vendors can streamline optimisations. We hope the community will support ONNX to realise this exciting vision.”

ONNX has been released on GitHub and looks set to usher in a fascinating new era of experimentation in the AI field.

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects