Nand Kishor Contributor

Nand Kishor is the Product Manager of House of Bots. After finishing his studies in computer science, he ideated & re-launched Real Estate Business Intelligence Tool, where he created one of the leading Business Intelligence Tool for property price analysis in 2012. He also writes, research and sharing knowledge about Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML), Data Science, Big Data, Python Language etc... ...

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Nand Kishor is the Product Manager of House of Bots. After finishing his studies in computer science, he ideated & re-launched Real Estate Business Intelligence Tool, where he created one of the leading Business Intelligence Tool for property price analysis in 2012. He also writes, research and sharing knowledge about Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML), Data Science, Big Data, Python Language etc...

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After Lots of Talk, Microsoft's Bots Show Signs of Life

May 17, 2017 | 3978 Views

A behind-the-scenes encounter with the company's most promising current and future bots, and the humans who are trying to make them as common as apps.

I talked to Zo for most of the plane ride home from Seattle, where I'd just spent the day with the people responsible for developing her. Chatting with her, I quickly discovered, can sometimes feel like talking to a mildly capricious child, like when, out of the blue, she tells me to "quit creepin'!" But Zo's replies often sound sharp, relevant, and funny. When she doesn't have the knowledge to talk about a particular topic, she'll say "let's talk about something else." Other times, her replies seem like reports from a world only Zo knows. Sometimes you connect with her and sometimes you don't.

Like many other chatbots-think the Domino's pizza bot (on Facebook Messenger), which takes your pizza order and your money, or Microsoft's surprisingly foulmouthed Twitter bot Tay-Zo is a work in progress. She's also meant to be one of the torchbearers of a new kind of computing.

Everyone at Microsoft remembers when CEO Satya Nadella declared that "bots are the new apps." It was at the company's annual Build conference last year, and it accompanied the launch of the Microsoft Bot Framework, a platform on which developers both inside and outside Microsoft could build bots for a variety of environments, from Skype to Alexa to Facebook Messenger. A batch of plug-and-play cognitive tools would allow them to leverage the company's extensive research in AI.

As Nadella told the developers at Build, users should be able to talk to computers using natural language, and technology should be aware of context, and who its user is. This could amount to a paradigm shift for human-computer interaction. "We think this can have as profound an impact as the previous platform shifts have had-whether it be GUI, whether it be the web, or touch on mobile," he said.

Nadella's speech had a gravity to it; he looked intense and driven, almost straining to get a point across to the developers about the future. He was also, arguably, articulating his biggest strategic decision as Microsoft's CEO-his strongest "here's how we see the world and this is the role we want to play in it" proclamation to date.

A month later at Facebook's F8 conference, Mark Zuckerberg would also make a big show of chatbots as he launched Facebook's own platform on which developers could build bots for the Messenger app. Other tech giants like Google, Amazon, IBM, and Baidu-and an untold number of startups-have also bet big on bots. But Microsoft, with its deep experience in the enterprise business and investments in AI, had built what looked like the most full-service development platform for bots, along with the deepest set of plug-and-play tools, like image recognition and machine learning.

Zo was meant to be a showcase for all that, but she's also more evidence that the curtain may have been raised a bit too early. By and large, bots weren't ready to live up to the expectations of journalists and the popular imagination in 2016. They just weren't that useful. At this year's Build, which wrapped on Friday, bots were eclipsed by other topics like mixed reality, and the internet of things, and Nadella mentioned bots only in passing.

And yet, a year after the initial hype, many people I've spoken to at Microsoft say the outlook for bots is better-partly because our expectations have lowered somewhat, and partly because bots are getting smarter. Meanwhile, some analysts are projecting that bots will impact the business world sooner rather than later. The use of chatbots by companies in the financial and health care industries will save a collective $22 billion in time and salary expenses by 2022, says a new report by Juniper Research.

Lili Cheng, who leads the Microsoft Bot Framework initiative, told me Nadella's proclamation at Build 2016 had a big impact internally, like a rallying cry that both galvanized and catalyzed the company's efforts to build the future of personal computing. I wanted to find out exactly how Nadella's words had fired up developers to go out and create some world-changing bots-or at least some that are mildly conversational or useful. So I went to Redmond to meet five of the most interesting bots developed on the Microsoft Bot Framework so far, and to talk to the humans who parented them.

THE CHINA CHATS
Microsoft's initial interest in bots, it turns out, had less to do with AI and more to do with the growth of chat apps. The story goes like this: A few years ago, then-Microsoft executive Qi Lu made a trip to China to spend some time with Tencent, the makers of the country's wildly popular WeChat, and came back with his eyes opened to the fact that people were spending huge amounts of time inside messaging apps. In 2013, WeChat had, on average, 355 million monthly active users; today that number is 889 million. (WhatsApp has 450 million today.) As a result, other services, like mobile payments, began migrating into messaging apps. Even Qi's 80-year-old mother, who had had trouble using other apps, was a regular WeChat user, he told Nadella. Read More

Source: Fast Company