Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella

San Francisco, CA – There’s nothing quite like a Microsoft Corp. conference.

At Build 2016, the software giant unveiled its vision for the next evolution in computing, one that it hopes will use context and intelligence to make machines more personal.

Arguably, it’s a goal that IBM set out to accomplish years ago with the Watson platform. And while Big Blue had a head start in marketing its cognitive solution, Microsoft is backed by Windows 10, which the company claims is the quickest-adopted operating system to date, including within the enterprise.

In this capacity, Microsoft was firing on all cylinders.

With Cortana Intelligence Suite (formerly known as the Cortana Analytics Suite), Microsoft finally has an answer to IBM Watson.

Where Watson seems to be overwhelmingly geared towards enterprise scenarios, Cortana Intelligence was demoed primarily in consumer-facing use cases.

Microsoft Cognitive Services, one of Cortana Intelligence Suite’s two components, is a collection of intelligence APIs that look at vision, speech, language, knowledge and search.

The second half of the suite is called Microsoft Bot Framework, meant to be used by developers to create – in any programming language – “bots” as Microsoft calls them, which use natural language to accomplish tasks for customers – think Tay, Microsoft’s hapless chatbot A.I., except with a clearly defined purpose and hopefully less hilarious results.

In one example, Microsoft showed off an app in partnership with Dominos Pizza that allowed customers on various devices and messaging platforms to order a pizza using natural language. A phrase such as “Can I get a large pepperoni pizza delivered to my place for lunch” can be interpreted by APIs that can fill out forms behind-the-scenes such as location, size of the pizza, toppings, time, etc. Integration with Cortana would further allow information such as address to be automatically called up.

With Microsoft pushing for integration between all platforms and devices, bots like these would work on browsers, as a desktop or mobile app, in Skype, Slack, Office 365 and supposedly even works on non-smart cellphones through SMS.

All of this is, of course, built on Microsoft Azure. Speaking of Skype, bots will help bring the communications platform into the “next generation” as well.

Microsoft’s messaging and video conferencing application is set to receive its own dedicated bots via the Skype Bot Platform, which will include the SDK, API and Workflows.

Skype will even see integration with Cortana, which will highlight and interact with key information in conversations to call up relevant apps such as calendar, but even converse with the user in her own conversation and broker with third party bots for deliveries, bookings, or call up contacts as they become relevant.

For now, the Cortana Intelligence Suite, is in preview.



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