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If you want to know why Microsoft has become so bullish on bots, Xiaoice is a big part of the answer.
"I’m not going to go so far as to say we’ve found the killer bot — but we’ve found a bot that works in a new way that fulfills many of the promises of conversation," says Derrick Connell, head of search engineering at Bing. After it was available for three days, Xiaoice had been added to 1.5 million conversations on the Chinese mega-messenger app We Chat.
Satya Nadella bounded into the conference room, eager to talk about intelligence.
I was at Microsoft’s headquarters in Redmond, WA, and the company’s CEO was touting the company's progress in building more intelligent apps and services.
Pronounced "SHAO-ICE," it’s a bot whose name is Chinese for "little Bing." That's Bing as in Microsoft's perennial also-ran search engine. The camera cut to an animated circle hovering in front of a virtual podium.
The face transformed into an image of a microphone, and in a soft female voice, Xiaoice shared her forecast, even answering a question from the anchor.
(It was called Botness.) "It's more like, what are the problems and challenges that we are finding that we can work on together?
" But by taking the lead with events like Botness, Microsoft hopes to position itself at the center of the shift to bots.
"We're really interested in it being interoperable — we want it to be an ecosystem," says Lili Cheng, a senior engineer at Microsoft who helped organize the two-day event.
And among the giants, Microsoft was first to release a true platform for text-based chat interfaces — a point of pride at a company that was mostly sidelined during the rise of smartphones.
described the tech industry's search for the killer bot.
But Microsoft executives say the infrastructure behind Xiaoice represents a significant opportunity for the company.
"It's the modern era — you don't have to be an expert in speech and language understanding," Connell says. Go build your branded bot with our tools and put it on whatever canvas — it might be Slack, it might be Facebook Messenger. But you choose." And with fears mounting among developers that a war could emerge over bot standards, Microsoft has been uncharacteristically diplomatic.
If the company succeeds, it will have a fresh start in the mobile era.