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Progress in the shift to conversational computing

08 Aug 16

Four months ago at //build 2016, Satya Nadella outlined Microsoft’s vision for Conversations as a Platform (CaaP). He explained that pairing “the power of natural human language with advanced machine intelligence” will enable organisations and consumers to get more done and have more fun, with the help of intelligent bots and digital personal assistants. We envision a world where digital experiences mirror the way people interact with one another today. A world where language will become the new user interface, bots are the new apps, digital assistants are like meta apps or browsers, and intelligence will be infused throughout all interactions.

Intelligent conversations, such as those in Skype chat, will be where you discover information and get things done. We want bots to become the quickest way to handle simple tasks, like shopping or managing your calendar, and the most effortless way to complete complex tasks, such as booking a family vacation. And the more you use bots, the better they get at anticipating your needs.

Today, we’re taking another significant step towards bringing that vision into reality. Our hundreds of millions of Skype users will now have access to a series of new bots created by Microsoft and our partners. This new wave of bots focuses on travel and entertainment, and are available across each Skype client whether Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, or the web.

Helpful experiences like the Hipmunk Bot, a group bot, that helps you and your friends collaborate on a task such as voting on a trip to take, or simply choosing a restaurant together. The Skyscanner Bot lets you search for flights either individually or as part of a group, returning live prices and route options within Skype. And the StubHub Bot works on your behalf to find the perfect concert ticket. For more information on these bots check out the Skype Garage Blog.

Today’s news builds on a steady stream of momentum toward our CaaP vision. While it’s only been a few months, we’ve worked closely with many different partners and developers to help advance the realities of conversational computing. At //build, we announced our first wave of Skype bots and released the Microsoft Bot Framework, which makes it easier for developers – programming in any language – to build, connect, manage and publish  intelligent bots that interact naturally wherever your users are talking – from text/SMS to Skype, Slack, Facebook Messenger, Kik, Office 365 mail and other popular services. More than 30,000 developers are already building bots with the Microsoft Bot Framework. We also expanded Microsoft Cognitive Services, a collection of 23 intelligence APIs that allows systems to see, hear, speak, understand and interpret our needs using natural methods of communication.

In June, we acquired Wand Labs to accelerate our efforts in conversational intelligence and hosted our very first Skype Bot Hackathon in our Palo Alto office where participants worked to create bots that did everything from helping you choose dinner, finding the perfect song to fit your mood, and even buying the right health insurance. In less than two days, dozens of bots were developed.

In July, we announced three key updates to the bot framework tools, including group functionality for bots, to make your chats even more helpful. And we just wrapped up our first ever BotHack Hackathon as part of our OneWeek company event where 145 teams internally participated in developing bots. It’s impressive to see what is becoming a healthy ecosystem form in such a short timeframe and we couldn’t be more excited at the initial response to the potential of the Microsoft Bot Framework.

Our vision for intelligence has its origins in more than 20 years of advanced research and extends across the breadth of our product and services portfolio, encompassing technologies that are aligned with our core ambitions and mission to empower everyone and organisation to achieve more. This vision extends beyond Microsoft though from Cortana’s unbound nature and extensibility across platforms to the openness of our Bot Framework for cross-platform publishing, and even as indicated in our recent release of Microsoft Pix, a new smart camera app built for the iPhone and iPad that combines advances in artificial intelligence, computational photography and video stabilisation to take better photos.

We believe Conversations as a Platform will fundamentally change the computing experience and are committed to advancing this next frontier with intelligence that simplifies and enhances our digital interactions.

Article by Gurdeep Pall, corporate vice president of Skype

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