Microsoft has announced an updated version of its Cognitive Toolkit, previously known as CNTK, released again under a permissive open-source licence to push the field of deep learning further forward.

First released to the public back in January as CNTK, Microsoft's Cognitive Toolkit is designed to provide improved performance for deep learning tasks compared to rival software. Originally developed to improve Microsoft's speech recognition platform, the Cognitive Toolkit is claimed to offer significantly better scaling across multiple GPU accelerators than rival platforms like Google's similarly open-source TensorFlow, though that does not take into account Google's custom-built Tensor Processing Unit (TPU) hardware.

In the latest release of what is now known as the Cognitive Toolkit, Microsoft claims to have taken what was a research-ready toolkit and polished it up for production use - though, ever cautious, the company is still marking it as a beta. New features in the latest release include support for Python or C++, reinforcement learning capabilities, and boosted performance.

The new Cognitive Toolkit is already delivering results within Microsoft, the company has claimed. A recent breakthrough by the company's artificial intelligence research division in recognising conversational speech with an accuracy matching that of a human listener was credited to the Cognitive Toolkit, while the company has also used the technology to power its Cortana voice-activated assistant and to improve the quality and relevance of search results.

The release comes almost a month after Microsoft announced it was to form a 5,000-strong AI-focused business group and that it had joined the Partnership on AI industry group.
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