Build 2016: Microsoft betting big on bots, plans to bring them everywhere

Build 2016 revealed Microsoft's plans to unleash bots on the entire world by opening up their bot platform to developers the world over.

It was just recently that the Twitterati decided to give Microsoft's AI-powered bot Tay some lessons in racism, but looks like the embarrassment hasn't stopped the company  from its big plans for chatbots.

One of the biggest announcements at the Build 2016 keynote was that Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella, is betting big on bots. These bots won't be as racist as Tay, but they can be fast, polite, very helpful and, in the long run, better than a human for the same reasons. Basically, they could be on your phone or desktop or other mobile communication devices, helping you book tickets, send messages and so on. Nadella clearly put forth his vision on how humans will interact with machines and didn't seem to be mincing words there. He even goes as far as to say that bots could replace apps in the future.

For Microsoft, bots go hand-in-hand with its digital assistant - Cortana. On stage, a phone with Cortana was used to demo a trip planned for Ireland, wherein Cortana displayed Westin Hotels' chatbot that booked a room based on a simple chat conversation. Yes, that's communication between a digital assistant and a bot. Nadella has emphasised effective communications, which includes not just people to people interactions, but also people to bot, bot to digital assistant and so on.

The company has also placed a stepping stone by opening its chatbot framework to everyone. For developers, it brings a developer portal and SDK for building Bots, a Bot Connector service to connect to social channels like Twitter and Slack, and an upcoming Bot Directory to discover and use existing bots. The best part? Everyone can start building their own bots right now. Just click here.

Citing an example, Joseph Sirosh, Corp VP for the Data Group, Microsoft, has said that a pizza delivery service can allow users to review the menu, look for price promotions and also complete an order by talking to a Pizza Bot on any communication platform of their choice. Another bot could help a visually-impaired user see for example. The possibilities are endless. Basically, there will be bots everywhere.

Besides, the company has also introduced Skype Bots. Yes, soon one can use Skype to book trips, shop online, and even schedule a meeting. Skype will chat with Cortana to get things done. As aforesaid, Cortana can talk to a third-party chatbot. This is something we've seen with Facebook M, but M has trainers.

Facebook M is AI powered and backed by a team with a customer service background and can make travel arrangements and so on. Facebook M coupled with the recent rumours indicating that Facebook is testing an in-store purchase option mean that Facebook's future plans aren't too difficult to decipher. The social network has just announced that KLM airline passengers will be able to make travel changes, check in, get updates and also talk to customer support reps directly from its Messenger chat app. We wouldn't be surprised to see this being extended to WhatsApp too. In fact, it might just be inevitable.


Then there was also the mention of video bots, something Skype plans to achieve by bringing intelligence into real-time video. Maybe a video call involving a bot, who knows? Read more about the Skype bot developer program here.

Back at home, a startup community using AI-based chatbots could leverage the platform for a wider and more enhanced reach. They could tap into the existing users on Skype and other platforms. That said, a startup in India is already doing just that. "We have started working to release a Yellow Messenger Bot on Skype. This is very exciting and great opportunity for us as this becomes a channel where we can acquire millions of users already on Skype with very little competition as we are the first or one of the first ones to build Bots for commerce," said Raghu Ravinutala, CEO and co-founder of Yellow Mesenger, an AI-powered chatbot app designed  help you discover and search for products.

Artificial Intelligence could sure be the buzzword for 2016. After all, biggies like Google and Facebook, and now Microsoft, make it look all the more promising. However, the big question is - will it replace apps? It's a difficult question to answer at this stage, but many feel that chatbots will work in tandem with apps and quite possibly take away jobs from people. Replacing apps entirely might be too much of a stretch however.

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