Microsoft: The Future of Skype is Conversational Bots

Posted on December 14, 2016 by Paul Thurrott in Cloud, Hardware, Mobile, Skype, Windows 10 with 14 Comments

Microsoft: The Future of Skype is Conversational Bots

The future of Skype is bots, Microsoft asserted this week, noting that this “tidal shift” would usher in a new age of conversational computing.

“Skype … is at the forefront of … a paradigm shift [that] is enabling our machines to harness the power of human conversation, leading to endless improvements in efficiency, intelligence, and, of course, fun,” the Skype Team explains in a post to the Skype News blog. “Since the emergence of conversational computing we’ve seen an ever-growing presence of bots. While we’re still in the early days of innovation, we believe that we’re truly changing the way consumers engage with our partners. And our partners? They’re already demonstrating this tidal shift.”

Microsoft first outlined its plans for Skype bots back in April at Build 2016. At that time, the firm released a preview of Skype Bots, which it described as “a new way to bring expertise, products, services and entertainment into your daily messaging on Skype,” to its Skype app on Windows desktop, Android, iPhone, and iPad. And it opened a new Skype developer program so that developers could get their hands dirty with bots as well.

Today, Microsoft says, it has already seen great progress on Skype bots, and it highlights such partners as Expedia.com, which is “coming soon” to all Skype platforms.

“With the Expedia bot, you can easily search for hotels, quickly book, manage reservations, and confirm or cancel hotels and flights,” Microsoft says. “And should you ever have a question the bot can’t answer, Expedia is proud to be one of the first bots that allows calling directly to Expedia, free of charge.”

Other partners highlighted by Microsoft include UPS, which has a bot that can track packages, calculate shipping rates, and find local stores; a Marvel bot that hopefully explains why your fixation on comic book movies is unhealthy and childish; StubHub for event ticketing; and Hipmunk for travel planning.

Most interesting to me personally is a coming language learning bot that is being developed by Skype, Eton Institute, and Learningonline.xyz. As you may recall, I’ve been using bots to help me learn French in the excellent Duolingo mobile app on iPhone since this new feature became available a few months back.

And this is only the beginning, the Skype Team says. 2017 will see an explosion in conversation bots.

“This paradigm shift will come in waves, and soon our partners will be able to create talking bots with the general availability of the Skype calling API,” the Skype post notes. “That means users will be able to interact with bots that can actually speak to you, creating even more possibilities. And what’s more? Bots will be able to send rich media cards, adding the capability to bring video, audio, and GIFs into chat conversations. Combined, these new features will drive richer and more engaging experiences for our users, making 2017—and the years ahead—incredibly exciting.”

Most interesting. And when you consider that this technology is very much related to the expansion of Cortana to devices—see Brad’s post about this, plus my own post—you see a bigger picture where AI and machine learning team with bots, including personal digital assistants, to create a future where typing takes a back seat to speaking when it comes to interacting with technology. Welcome to the Matrix.

 

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