Microsoft makes breakthrough in AI-powered chatbot conversation

Microsoft makes breakthrough in AI-powered chatbot conversation
XiaoIce can now communicate in both directions simultaneously and respond more quickly to users

Elly Yates-Roberts |

Microsoft says it has achieved a technological breakthrough with XiaoIce, an artificial intelligence-powered (AI) social chatbot in China which allows users to have a more natural sounding conversation.

The breakthrough allows XiaoIce to operate in ‘full duplex’ meaning it can communicate in both directions simultaneously, like a phone call. Microsoft is working to apply the same breakthroughs to other social chatbots including Microsoft’s Zo in the US.

Allison Linn, senior writer and editor at Microsoft, outlined the achievements in a recent blog post. Li Zhou, principal software engineering manager at Microsoft China, told Linn that the new update expands XiaoIce’s ability to predict what the person she is talking with will say next. “This helps her make decisions about both how and when to respond,” he said.

Full duplex voice sense reduces the unnatural lag time that can make interactions with chatbots feel unnatural. “This really speeds up her responses to be much more natural,” explained Ying Wang, director of Zo AI, Microsoft AI and Research Group.

In addition, the new technology means that users don’t have to use a ‘wake word’, such as the chatbot’s name, when they respond during conversations.

According to Linn, the advance builds on other skills XiaoIce has developed, such as the ability to pause one thing she’s doing such telling a story, to do something else, like turn on a light. “She can then remember to go back to telling the story, much like a person can switch topics in a conversation and then return to the original topic,” Linn said.

Di Li, general manager for XiaoIce at Microsoft, said all these improvements are part of Microsoft’s efforts to build AI-powered social chatbots that understand emotional and intellectual needs.

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