Microsoft next platform bet: Bot assistants that know all about you and your business

Microsoft next platform bet: Bot assistants that know all about you and your business

How a pot-smoking, foul-mouthed neo-Nazi bot is paving the way for Microsoft's bright future

It is hard to imagine a major platform introduction going worse than Microsoft's bet on intelligent agents, also known as bots.

Tay, the teen-inspired chatbot from Microsoft Research, went horribly off the rails a few hours after it launched, spewing racist invective, death threats, and more at users.

Microsoft blamed the problems on coordinated effort by some users trying to troll the internet, but then it accidentally came back online briefly with the same problems. It is now a locked account, but while the episode would have led to programs being scrapped at other companies, Microsoft's Satya Nadella has vowed to press on.

In fact, to Nadella, conversation is the next platform, like the mobile, web, and the desktop before it. And Microsoft's bots — bumps along the way not withstanding — are key to winning that platform.

And being one of the first to rush there means taking some of the heat when things go wrong.

Even Nadella was creeped out by one of Microsoft's early creations, as Bloomberg reported:

Some engineers hacked a Satya-bot that answered questions like what's Microsoft's mission? and where did you go to college? in Nadella's voice by culling quotes from his speeches and interviews.

Connell thought it was a clever way to show how the technology worked and told Nadella about it, thinking he'd be flattered. But the CEO was weirded out by a computer program spitting back his words. I don't like the idea, said Nadella, half laughing, half grimacing on a walk to a secret room earlier this month to preview bot and AI capabilities he demoed Wednesday at Microsoft's Build conference. I shudder to think about it.

Shuddering, but not stalling.

During Build, Microsoft unveiled the Microsoft Bot Framework that lets you build once and then deploy assistants who can text, Skype, Slack, email, web chat and more.

It's a path forward now that Microsoft has largely been blocked out of mobile OS wars. Assistants that can reach out and help you make better, more informed decisions, are a way to runaround platform gatekeepers and offer something that they still struggle with: continuity.

It's not just in one operating system, because that's not what we believe in. It's available on all your devices and all your experiences, Nadella told Matt Rosoff in a recent interview. Instead of you going to 20 apps and having to do all of this in your own head, what if all the apps came to you, whether they be through bots in a conversational canvas like Skype or through a personal digital assistant?

Expect to find out the answer to that what if soon, with Microsoft starting to ramp up an army of Skype Bots while integrating Cortana deeper into business operations with Cortana in the Enteprise.

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