Tech giant Amazon may have started life as an online bookseller before expanding into general retail, but today its technology services are increasingly the core of its business, a fact that was underscored yesterday at the Amazon Web Services conference in San Francisco.

Not only is Amazon holding its own against older tech companies, but when it comes to cloud computing it's frequently leading the pack, the company said at the conference. AWS is projecting a $14 billion run rate for the year. In year-over-year sales, AWS' revenues are growing faster than revenues generated from cloud services at other companies such as Oracle, Microsoft, Cisco, and IBM, the company said.

Putting the Lex in Alexa

One of new features to come out of Amazon in recent years is the Alexa personal assistant that can respond to users' natural language commands. Yesterday, the company revealed that it has opened up the voice recognition technology that powers the service to other developers, allowing them to use it to build their own voice recognition apps.

Dubbed Amazon Lex, the artificial intelligence service will allow developers to build chatbots and other applications that can respond to user questions either through text or voice.

That puts AWS in direct competition with other major technology companies that have been developing their own natural language recognition systems such as Google and Microsoft. Amazon is likely hoping that much of the work and investment it has already done on Alexa will give it a leg up on its rivals. The Alexa system has also been steadily improving itself by analyzing data from its interactions with users, another huge information advantage for the company.

More Tools for AWS Developers

The company also took the opportunity to announce CodeStar, a new tool for developers building apps on the AWS platform. CodeStar is a new cloud service designed to make it easier for companies to build and deploy apps on AWS by providing project templates using common programming languages such as JavaScript, Java, Python, and Ruby. While CodeStar is free to use, developers will have to pay for some of the other tools needed to build apps on AWS.

Amazon also announced the general availability of its X-Ray service, originally unveiled at the AWS re:Invent conference. X-Ray is a debugging and analysis tool for developers. The company also said that the tool is being integrated with its Lambda technology. Lambda is a service that lets developers run code on AWS without first having to provision or manage servers.

Additionally, Amazon said that it is adding image moderation capabilities to its AWS Rekognition service. Rekognition is an image recognition tool released by AWS' Computer Vision team last year. By adding image moderation to Rekognition, sites that allow users to upload their own images can automatically detect suggestive or explicit content without first having to be reviewed by a person.