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March 30, 2016

Microsoft’s AI strategy is more than just Cortana

by John_A

With the Tay fiasco fresh in our minds, Microsoft has unveiled its “conversations as a platform” strategy at its annual developer conference Build to get devs to create AI bots that work with Cortana. The idea is to make it easy to do things like shop, order services, look up your flight or schedule meetings by just chatting with the virtual assistant.

CEO Satya Nadella said, “it’s about taking the power of human language and applying it more pervasively to all of our computing.” He continued that Microsoft needs to infuse intelligence into its products and services.”

He pointed out that the platform will be composed of three factors: Humans that actually have the conversations, the digital personal assistant like Cortana and the bots that are the new applications. Nadella said that all of three of these interact in a variety of ways. for example, Cortana will not only listen to you, but could also chat with the bots on your behalf to offer up context-based suggestions.

It won’t be corralled in the Window’s world. “It has to be about you, not a single device. That’s how we’re building out Cortana,” Nadella said. The personal assistant will work on and evolve on iOS and Android as well as Windows.

During a demo Lillian Rincon, principal group manager Skype showed off Cortana booking a trip based upon the context of an earlier conversation and Rincon’s earlier trips. It even surfaced her friend in the area to hang out with. All of this was done seamlessly during a conversation.

The Skype beta with AI integration if available today.

Microsoft announced the Bot Frame to get developers working with Cortana and Skype, Slack and other messaging systems. “We want every developer to build experts for Cortana. We all developers to build bots,” Nadella said onstage.

Blind Microsoft developer Saquib Sheikh built an app that tells him what’s going on around him. The app can general the age and gender of those around him, identify objects and read text outloud. It’s impressive and shows off the possibilities available from AI beyond just ordering a pizza.

The new framework and other developer tools are available today.

Tech companies have been aggressively pursuing AI. Google’s DeepMind battled a Go world champion, while Facebook’s M (in limited release) helped folks shop and book flights. Microsoft has been working on artificial intelligence for years, now it’s hoping developers will come along for the ride.


Get all the news from today’s Microsoft Build keynote right here, and follow along with our liveblog!

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