Conversation as the new UI: Microsoft makes its chatbot pitch at Build 2016

Cortana Intelligence Suite & Microsoft Bot Framework introduced to help developers understand conversations & take actions where they happen.

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Bots, bots, bots. Chances are, you’ve been hearing how they’re going to change everything, allowing people to order food, book rooms and more within chat. Indeed, it already happens in China. Now, Microsoft wants to make it even easier.

At its Build event today, Microsoft’s big yearly gathering for developers, the company announced a number of things to position itself as ready to ride the bot revolution. Perhaps more important, it pushed past the idea of chatbots and embraced “conversation” as the new user interface, the new platform for developers to program for, a new way for people to get what they want.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella spoke of a world where “human language is the UI layer” and Microsoft participating in “conversational canvases,” a new term applied to any app where people are conversing, from email to chat to SMS:

conversational canvases

As for Microsoft, it positioned itself as being prepared for these canvases in a variety of ways.

Cortana as smarter agent

Microsoft highlighted that Cortana was going to get smarter, for example suggesting actions that are relevant to take based on your appointments:

Have a lunch appointment? Maybe you want to book a table. And behind the scenes, developers can build apps that tap into these actions:

I’ll update with more details on this, as I get them. This is a good time to mention that I’m writing this up fairly quickly coming off of the Build keynote that I liveblogged, which you’ll find below.

More impressive was a demo where Microsoft showed someone asking Cortana to block time on their calendar within Skype. Cortana, in turn, smartly suggested that maybe a hotel room should be booked — and then called upon a hotel bot for help. That bot, in turn, booked the room:





Understanding language & universal bot building

Microsoft sees its role in helping these type of magical things happen in two ways: providing the intelligence to understand language and a platform to build agents and bots to act upon actions detected within conversations.

First is the introduction of what it called the Cortana Intelligence Suite, the understanding language part:

Also launched was the new Microsoft Bot Framework:

That’s designed to let developers easily build bots that, in turn, can operate both within Microsoft applications like Skype as well as third-party platforms like Slack. For the specific and new Skype Bot Platform, see here and here.

For more about Microsoft’s “conversation as platform” moves, see this article out today from Dina Bass at Bloomberg — I’ve only had time to skim it, but as it appeared before the keynote happened, it’s the most formal debut of Microsoft’s idea that you’ll find.

For more from the keynote, you might find a recording of the livestream here. Watch the Build news page here for formal announcements. Below, our live blog of the event:

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About the author

Danny Sullivan
Danny Sullivan was a journalist and analyst who covered the digital and search marketing space from 1996 through 2017. He was also a cofounder of Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land, MarTech, and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo and MarTech events. He retired from journalism and Third Door Media in June 2017. You can learn more about him on his personal site & blog He can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.

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