Is artificial intelligence and conversational computing the next great frontier in IT? Microsoft believes so; the company is bullish on AI and is doubling down on opportunities it sees for the technology.
At an event in San Francisco, Microsoft paraded a multitude of technologies focusing on bots, the Cortana personal digital assistant, and application development in these realms. "Our goal here is democratizing AI so that we make AI available for everyone," including developers, consumers, and businesses, said Harry Shum, executive vice president in Microsoft's AI and Research Group.
The company officially introduced its Zo chatbot, an AI-driven, English-speaking conversation partner that is a follow-up to Tay, which had been contorted into misuse and abuse. More than 115,000 people have already been using Zo, according to Microsoft.
With bots, developers can build applications offering interactive services and human-to-computer conversations. The company also said more than 67,000 developers were using Microsoft Bot Framework, which features open source Bot Builder SDKs. Bots, in fact, "are the new runtime," Shum said.
Microsoft has added tools to make it easier to build bots, including QnA Maker, a beta for developing a question-and-answer bot that uses FAQ URLs, structured documents, or editorial content.
For Cortana, Microsoft introduced the Cortana Devices SDK to enable development of smarter devices. The kit enables two-way, real-time audio communications via integration of Skype, email, calendars, and lists, with support for Windows IoT, Linux, Android, and other platforms via open source protocols and libraries. Cortana Skills Kit, meanwhile, will let developers use bots developed with the Bot Framework and publish them to Cortana as new skills.
The Skype Calling API, now generally available, enables building of talking bots by providing a mechanism for handling Skype voice calls by bots. The company also is providing tools to build rich media cards so Skype bots can add video, animated GIFs, and audio clips to bot cards, within the Bot Framework.
Microsoft Translator Live, meanwhile, enables real-time, multilingual conversations with Microsoft Translator apps. These apps are intended to translate text, speech, documents, and web pages into 60 different languages. Translator Live currently is in a preview stage.