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Rivalling Google Duplex, Microsoft’s XiaoIce is an AI that has already made Millions of Phone Calls

Overview

  • Similar to Google Duplex, Microsoft’s AI bot can make natural conversations like humans
  • The chat bot, named XiaoIce, has been in testing since August 2017
  • XiaoIce has had more than 30 billion conversations and talked with 600k people on the phone in China

 

Introduction

When Google Duplex was unveiled a couple of weeks back, the world was left stunned at how far machine learning and AI had come. It was a truly transcendent moment and everyone was left wondering and debating whether only Google had the keys to this type of technology.

As it turns out, Google wasn’t alone. At Microsoft’s AI Innovate event this week, Microsoft presented a similar AI chat bot, Xiaoice, that can talk and sound exactly like a human. They were just 2 weeks late to the party.

Microsoft’s project, called ‘XiaoIce’ was initially launched in August 2017. By April, XiaoIce could speak and listen at the same time, similar to what humans do. The company has been testing this social chat bot with millions of users in China. At the conference, the team announced some exciting new developments and features for this technology. Below is a summary of the important points that were covered at the event:

  • The company is making capabilities of Xiaoice available for partners and developers to use in their applications
  • New features are being introduced in Xiaoice which will enable it to create customised audio stories in a short period of time. The team claims that by using input from parents and kids, Xiaoice will be able to create a 10-minute customized audio story for kids in about 20 seconds!
  • For personalizing background music and story characters, Xiaoice uses a specific trained deep learning model. This free-of-cost audio service will be made available across markets in Asia starting June 1, 2018
  • Microsoft has acquired Semantic Machines, a conversational AI company in Berkeley, California, to make their NLP products and features even more nuanced

According to a blog post by Harry Shum, Microsoft’s Executive Vice President for Artificial Intelligence and Research, the AI chatbot had “over 30 billion conversations with 100 million friends” and “has talked with over 600,000 people on the phone”, since last August.

XiaoIce was also demonstrated live during the conference. Microsoft’s AI called a user and had a very natural sounding conversation. Check out the below video (the conversation is in Chinese with English translation), which will give you an essence of the capabilities of this AI.

The chatbot is only available in China at this time and has become incredibly popular with more than 500 million users already!

 

Our take on this

Another week in machine learning, and another flagship product comes along by a tech giant. The race to be the biggest and leading name in the ML and AI world is heating up.

Microsoft mentioned that they are working with a non-profit organization to create the largest audio-book library with Xiaoice for children who are blind or visually impaired. This is a wonderful use case of machine learning being used for good.

From the ethical standpoint, questions still remain. Google Duplex has been slammed in recent days by people who are concerned that it will be used for creating fake voices. Keeping this in mind, Micrsosoft specifically mentioned that when it uses this AI to place calls, it ensures that the person on the other end of the line knows that he/she is talking to an AI.

What’s your take on this latest Microsoft product? Does it excite or scare you? Let me know in the comments below!

 

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