It seems now that Google isn’t the only company with an artificially intelligent assistant that might make calls. At a recent AI event, Microsoft has shown Xiaoice, the company’s social chat bot for Chinese markets, holding a full duplex (two-way) phone conversation with a human on the other end of the line.
So this, Xiaoice, unlike Google Duplex, can’t really make a restaurant reservation or schedule a haircut appointment. But of course, it can converse with someone much in the same way as Google Duplex by predicting what the person would say, and then responding quickly. So, right now, like a human, this also reminds and brings attention to important events. During the demo, Xiaoice also interrupted the speaker in mid-sentence to alert him of strong winds in the area.
Microsoft, in fact, announced that in April that it had also incorporated full duplex capabilities into Xiaoice. However, recent reports have also stated that the first public demonstration of the technology.
At the event, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella added that “One of the things we started doing earlier this year is having full duplex conversations. So now Xiaoice can be conversing with you […] and stop and call you. Then you can just talk to it using voice.”
For natural language chatbots like Xiaoice, full-duplex conversations are much easier said than done. The AI must be able to handle awkward silences and make decisions about both how and when to respond.
To this, Li Zhou, engineer lead for Xiaoice, added that the goal is to reduce the lag time that can make interactions with voice assistants feel unnatural or forced. His Microsoft Blog post read that, “This is the art of conversation that people use in their daily life”.
Xiaoice’s advancements in duplex build on the chatbot’s other unique skills include the ability to pause something it’s doing. This includes, telling a child a bedtime story, or doing something else, like activating a light switch.
A part of the same post by Microsoft stated that “These improvements are part of Microsoft’s effort to build AI-powered social chatbots that understand people’s emotional as well as intellectual needs”.
To know more about Xiaoice, Microsoft added that it had made more than a million calls so far. It has more than 200 million users in Asia and 500 million followers on social media. Users can chat with Xiaoice through more than 16 different channels, including WeChat, Line, and Chinese social network Weibo. Microsoft executives have in fact previously told media that the company is also developing an English-language version of Xiaoice.