At the Google I/O 2018 demo, remember how Google Duplex totally blew our mind? This was a first for us as we witnessed robots pretending to be humans and making phones calls, and obviously, we were amused and scared in equal measures.
While the technology by Google was eventually criticised for potentially risking users privacy and safety, Microsoft is boldly working on a similar tech parallelly.
A report by The Verge reveals that Microsoft has been testing a similar AI that is capable of making phone calls, with a million people in China.
Called Xiaoice (pronounced “SHAO-ICE”), the new Microsoft technology is essentially a social chatbot, that company CEO Satya Nadella recently showcased at an AI event in London.
Nadella revealed that Microsoft has been testing Xiaoice in China and has over 500 million ‘friends’, more than 16 channels for users to interact with it through WeChat and other messaging services.
Microsoft has charactered Xiaoice as a friendly bot, which in all its conversations aims at helping humans feel like they are talking to a friend or someone they know. “Xiaoice has her own TV show, it writes poetry, and it does many interesting things,” revealed Nadella. “It’s a bit of a celebrity.”
While most of the existing tests with Xiaoice have been in relation to teaching it how to chat and send messages, Microsoft is now also working on allowing the bot to make phone calls.
Now, the concept does run on the same line for Google Duplex and Microsoft Xiaoice, but the technology isn’t exactly the same. While the Google Duplex uses the Assistant to make calls on your behalf, Xiaoice holds a phone conversation with you.
The Microsoft demonstration of the feature shows how the bot can even predict what the person will say next, and respond quickly. In the video demo, Xiaoice interrupts the user mid-sentence to alert them that there are strong winds and they should close the window before bed.
Xiaoice is currently limited to China, and Microsoft has revealed no plans of if and when it plans to test it with other parts of the world. While Xiaoice sounds like a big hit in China, this isn’t the company’s first attempt at a bot experiment. Two years ago, Microsoft started testing its bot called Tay, which ended in a disaster, after people on Twitter quickly taught the bot to be racist.