Microsoft May Dial Down The Bot Hype At Build 2017 – Fast Company

The focus of Build 2017, which will take place in Seattle on May 10-12, will likely be closely related, but not identical. The conference will feature keynote addresses on the 10th and 11th, in which we may hear new product or service announcements. The rest of the days will be filled with developer training sessions on Microsoft tools and how to use them.

Based on the items in the session agenda, Microsoft will be talking a lot about how developers can make their bots, apps, and services available—and highly functional—as “skills” in Cortana, Microsoft’s natural language smart assistant.

Cortana Gets Skillful

Developers will attend sessions on how to use the Microsoft Cortana technology to enter into a verbal back-and-forth with users to deliver their skill or service. This conversation capability is already offered to developers as a cognitive skill in Microsoft’s Bot Framework, but in this context, the back-and-forth might be voice only, with no visual aspect–more like how Alexa works via an Amazon Echo than Cortana within Windows 10.

By encouraging developers to create skills, Cortana is following a similar path as Alexa, except that Alexa has been incorporating new skills from developers for a couple of years, and now has more than 10,000 (not all of them useful). Microsoft has said that new skills would work with Cortana running on a variety of platforms, including Windows, Android, iOS, and Xbox.

Harman Kardon Invoke with Cortana from Microsoft [Photo: courtesy of Harman]

Taking On The Echo

To accompany all this, Microsoft will likely be talking to developers about how they can expose their apps and bots via Harman Kardon’s newly announced Invoke smart speaker, which came about as the result of a partnership with Microsoft. Invoke is Harman Kardon’s answer to Amazon Echo, and a new free-standing vehicle for the Cortana personal assistant. (Development of the device began before Harman Kardon was acquired by Samsung, which has its own nascent assistant in Bixby.)

The smart-home speaker wars are pulling in many of the big tech platform companies, perhaps even Apple. What’s alluring is the undeniable success of Amazon’s Echo (powered by the Alexa service) and its surprisingly quick movement toward becoming a mainstream tech product. People, it seems, like the idea of speaking to a stationary, intelligent device in the way they might speak to another person in the room.

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