While all the brouhaha over Google’s Duplex didn’t even subside, Microsoft has been busy testing a similar technology in China. At an AI event in London yesterday, Satya Nadella, CEO – Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT), showcased the tech in the form of Xiaoice – Microsoft’s new social chatbot – which is gained a lot of popularity in China.
At the latest I/O 2018, Google showed a glimpse of the sickest technology named Duplex which could make the Google Assistant the most lifelike AI yet. As we know, Google Duplex is capable of making phone calls and fixing appointments on your behalf. The Redmond giant’s Xiaoice is not exactly like the Duplex, which uses Google Assistant to make calls, but it also holds a phone conversation with you.
Nadella revealed that Xiaoice has 500 million ‘friends’ and more than 16 channels for Chinese users to interact with it through WeChat and other social messaging services. He also said that Xiaoice is a “bit of a celebrity” there – it has her own TV show, writes poetry, and does many interesting things.
Microsoft’s executive vice president for AI and research, Harry Shum, said, Xiaoice will have ‘full duplex‘ capabilities – human-like verbal conversations in which both participants can speak at the same time. It is also introducing features that will help Xiaoice to create a 10-min customized audio story for kids in about 20 seconds.
It’s Microsoft Xiaoice vs Google Duplex
It’s still unclear why Microsoft build this technology in the form of a chatbot and kept it restricted to China only. In fact, many in the Western countries are not even aware it exists despite its huge popularity in China. Surprisingly, the company has not demonstrated the same capabilities in its own AI-powered digital assistant Cortana, which is found on more than 700 million Windows 10 devices. Perhaps, Cortana lacks some prerequisites to implement this advanced technology. Also because, Microsoft’s first English-language bot experiment, Tay, failed miserably after Twitter users turned it into racist.
Microsoft Xiaoice has counterparts in India (Ruuh), U.S (Zo.ai), and Japan and Indonesia (Rinna), but none can compete with the popularity of Xiaoice. The company seems to be pushing its AI game. It also acquired Semantic Machines last week, which works on Conversational AI. The trade-off will not only give a boost to Cortana but also to Xiaoice.
Engaging in basic phone conversations through bots is only a matter of time. Considering the response of Xiaoice in China, Microsoft might be convinced enough to bring it down to the US and other English-speaking countries. Even Google is expected to start the testing of Duplex in the summer. Looks like full-duplex conversations will soon be a common thing on the digital assistant of your choice.
Unlike Duplex which is designed as a voice-first interface, Xiaoice’s interactions have mostly been on the text. The friendly bot is even thinking ahead, while you’re speaking and it has made over million calls so far. Microsoft, apparently, does have the technology that might overlap with Google Duplex, but can it really challenge the Google Assistant, it would be too early to tell. When Sundar Pichai displayed the jaw-dropping AI smarts of the Google Duplex at its annual developer’s conference, people were petrified with its natural human-like conversation skills.