Microsoft’s AI push: Cortana powered IoT devices, Chatbot Zo and Skype Translator Live

By Adamya Sharma | Updated 3 Jun 2017
Microsoft’s AI push: Cortana powered IoT devices, Chatbot Zo and Skype Translator Live
  • In the spirit of broadening their AI presence, the company has made a spate of announcements. Here's what Microsoft has in store for you.

Redmond based tech and software giant, Microsoft, made a series of announcements on Tuesday, highlighting the company’s plans and progress in the artificial intelligence space. In the spirit of broadening their AI presence, the company made a spate of announcements; including a new chatbot called Zo, Cortana Devices SDK and speech translation tools for Skype. Here’s a lowdown.

Cortana is coming to IoT devices

Microsoft announced that its AI voice assistant Cortana will now be available to OEMs and ODMs, to build IoT and smart devices.The company is releasing the same with its Windows 10 Creators Update in March 2017. The new SDK will allow Cortana to be embedded in smart home products such as Smart TVs, refrigerators, toasters and thermostats. “Microsoft is working with partners across a range of device categories to integrate Cortana into their connected devices. The Devices SDK carries through Cortana skills in productivity, music, home automation and device control,” Microsoft wrote in a recent blogpost. The company wants its device partners to use Cortana in IoT devices that include a display to make full Cortana UI available to users. Microsoft also announced a partnership with audio maker Harman Kardon, which will be launching a Cortana enabled voice-controlled home speaker, similar to Google Home and Amazon Echo, in February 2017.

Chatbot Zo

Microsoft introduced the world to its Bot framework at the company's annual developer conference, Build 2016. Now the company has introduced a new social chatbot called Zo, which earlier saw a soft launch in the U.S. on messaging platform Kik. The bot has now launched officially, and is available on Kik, with plans to introduce the same on Facebook Messenger & Skype in the future. “Microsoft’s long-term strategy is that agents like Cortana will not only have IQ but also have EQ, and that idea has fueled some groundbreaking work the company is doing with chatbots...Zo is built using the vast social content of the Internet. She learns from human interactions to respond emotionally and intelligently, providing a unique viewpoint, along with manners and emotional expressions. But she also has strong checks and balances in place to protect her from exploitation,” the company noted.

Microsoft Translator Live

Interacting with someone who speaks a different language can be a pain, but imagine having the conversation translated to your own language in real time. Microsoft has released a preview of such a service called, Microsoft Translator Live. The service has been released on Skype and allows users to have real-time, multi-lingual conversations. A big step in natural language processing, the Skype Translator is currently open to members of the service with access to the Windows Insider Program. It currently offers translations in 9 languages; including, English, Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, Mandarin, Arabic, Russian, French, German, and Italian. Microsoft is also looking to integrate talking bots into Skype. As the company explains, “This paradigm shift will come in waves, and soon our (Microsoft) partners will be able to create talking bots with the general availability of the Skype calling API. That means users will be able to interact with bots that can actually speak to you, creating even more possibilities. And what’s more? Bots will be able to send rich media cards, adding the capability to bring video, audio, and GIFs into chat conversations.”   

So those were some of the key highlights of Microsoft’s latest announcements. With Microsoft entering the home IoT hub space, competition is heating up for the likes of Amazon and Google, who already have a first-mover advantage in the industry. What will follow? An Apple home IoT hub perhaps? 

Adamya Sharma
Managing editor, - News Junkie, Movie Buff, Tech Whizz!

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