Last week, Microsoft open sourced Infer.NET, the cross-platform framework used for model-based machine learning. This popular machine learning engine used in Office, Xbox and Azure, will be available on GitHub under the permissive MIT license for free use in commercial applications.
Features of Infer.NET
The team at Microsoft Research in Cambridge initially envisioned Infer.NET as a research tool and released it for academic use in 2008. The framework has served as a base to publish hundreds of papers across a variety of fields, including information retrieval and healthcare. The team then started using the framework as a machine learning engine within a wide range of Microsoft products.
A model-based approach to machine learning
Infer.NET allows users to incorporate domain knowledge into their model. The framework can be used to build bespoke machine learning algorithms directly from their model. To sum it up, this framework actually constructs a learning algorithm for users based on the model they have provided.
Infer.NET also facilitates interpretability. If users have designed the model themselves and the learning algorithm follows that model, they can understand why the system behaves in a particular way or makes certain predictions.
In Infer.NET, models are described using a probabilistic program. This is used to describe real-world processes in a language that machines understand. Infer.NET compiles the probabilistic program into high-performance code for implementing something cryptically called deterministic approximate Bayesian inference. This approach allows a notable amount of scalability. For instance, it can be used in a system that automatically extracts knowledge from billions of web pages, comprising petabytes of data.
The framework also supports the ability of the system to learn as new data arrives. The team is also working towards developing and growing it further. Infer.NET will become a part of ML.NET (the machine learning framework for .NET developers). They have already set up the repository under the .NET Foundation and moved the package and namespaces to Microsoft.ML.Probabilistic. Being cross platform, Infer.NET supports .NET Framework 4.6.1, .NET Core 2.0, and Mono 5.0. Windows users get to use Visual Studio 2017, while macOS and Linux folks have command-line options, which could be incorporated into the code wrangler of their choice.