Microsoft unveiled that new tools for developers are in store, allowing everyone to craft interactive bots that can use natural language.
At its Build conference in San Francisco, the company presented the Microsoft Bot Framework, a toolset that permits coders to build chatbots capable of understanding and using voice commands. One purpose of the development is for the bots to take the place of Web and app interfaces, making the user experience easier.
The two essential components of the package, Microsoft Cognitive Services and the Microsoft Bot Framework, are available in preview, and both belong to the larger Cortana Intelligence Suite.
"Microsoft Cognitive Services is a collection of intelligence APIs that allows systems to see, hear, speak, understand and interpret our needs," says Microsoft. The important detail is that systems can accomplish this via natural means of communication.
The Microsoft Bot Framework comes in handy for developers, who can use any programming language to develop intelligent bots.
"[The bots] enable customers to chat using natural language on a wide variety of platforms including text/SMS, Office 365, Skype, Slack, the Web and more," Microsoft notes.
During the Build conference, Microsoft showcased the Bot Framework by quickly assembling a chatbot that was able to replace an online order form. It was not the first time Microsoft touted the possibilities of chatbots, but the novel element here is that the tool is open to everyone.
One way in which Microsoft plans to assist programmers is by giving the so-called "cognitive micro services." These are nothing more than small batches of prepackaged intelligence that enable bots to have a better grasp of natural language. Extended use for image analysis and labeling was promised for later.
Microsoft did offer such services to developers, but the company has now expanded its portfolio of APIs from five to 22. The free-for-all policy should provide an important support for coders who want to dabble in chatbot technologies.
At the San Francisco event, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella told the media that his company wants every developer to "infuse intelligence into their applications." Albeit it is true that Microsoft's own "Tay" bot turned out to be a legendarily poor communicator, developers could obtain palatable results by using the company's toolset.
During the conference, the company also demonstrated how it integrated the Cortana virtual assistant with Skype.