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Microsoft Reveals Roadmap for Conversational Computing with Intelligent Bots

Microsoft has already signaled it has ambitions to make Cortana and its machine learning-based engine more useful  and today CEO Satya Nadella articulated a grand vision for the company to make "conversational computing" using artificial intelligence and machine learning pervasive.

In the opening session of Microsoft's Build Conference in San Francisco, Nadella described how Microsoft will enable AI-based conversational computing in everything from Windows, its Edge browser, Outlook, Skype and even the entire ecosystem of software, hardware and cloud-based SaaS offerings. Nadella sees conversational computing using speech as the next UI and framework for how all applications are developed and connected.

Giving emphasis to the name of the conference, Nadella called on developers to "build" the next wave of applications based on tools and services that the company is rolling out including 22 Cognitive Services APIs for its Azure-based Cortana Intelligence Suite and the new Microsoft Bot Framework for developers to use to build intelligent bots that use natural language across platforms and apps. Nadella said the new Bot Framework, which includes an intelligence runtime, will work in any programming language and will allow developers to build interconnected applications that use speech as the UI. "We think this intelligence runtime [in the Bot Framework] and Cortana Intelligence suite is going to be core, just like how the .NET runtimes were, to all of the applications you are going to build," Nadella said. The notion of the Bot Framework runtime, Nadella said, is that developers can build intelligence into their apps and ultimately use voice as the new UI.

"We want to take that power of human language and apply it more pervasively to all of the computing interface and the computing interactions," Nadella said. "To do that, you have to infuse into the computers and computing around us intelligence. It means you have to bring forth these technologies of artificial intelligence and machine learning so that we can teach computers to learn human language, have conversational understanding, teach them about the broad context…so that they can really help you with your everyday tasks both at work and elsewhere. So as we infuse intelligence into everything, I think it's very important to have a principled approach to guide our design, as well as how we build things."

Microsoft is certainly not alone in its push to allow users to ask their computing and mobile devices for information or to engage in tasks by merely speaking. Apple, Google and even Amazon with its Echo device have similar offerings which for the most part are novelties that are limited and with unpredictable performance.

Microsoft's effort to preview the capability of a "chat bot" called Tay that can interact on social media ended up giving the company a black eye last week after it tweeted racist, anti-Semitic and sexist remarks. The company pulled it and apologized. "We quickly learned it was not up to this mark, and so we're back to the drawing board," Nadella said.

Microsoft will roll out the framework over time, though the company is bringing it to Skype with the Skype Bot Platform, which the company said consists of an SDK, API and workflows available in its new Skype Bot Portal.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 03/30/2016 at 2:54 PM


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