Tech giant Microsoft has built a new artificial intelligence-based bot-cum-digital assistant that can make calls just like Google's Duplex technology-powered smart assistant.
At Google's annual developer conference earlier this month, chief executive Sundar Pichai demonstrated how Google Assistant could soon start making phone calls on the user's behalf to accomplish simple tasks like booking a table at a restaurant or setting up an appointment with a hairdresser. Pichai further said that the technology can be used by small and medium businesses to take care of calls
At the time, it appeared that Google had beaten rivals Amazon and Microsoft in the race to add such a feature.
But The Verge reports that Microsoft has been testing similar technology. The report said that at an event in London, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella showcased a social bot-cum-assistant called Xiaoice which the company has been piloting in China.
The bot is available on messaging services apps such as WeChat in the country but not on Microsoft's own smart assistant, Cortana.
Xiaoice, meaning 'litte Bing' in Chinese, is said to act more like a human being and has similar interests, with Nadella adding that the bot has become a friend to users in China.
“Xiaoice has her own TV show, it writes poetry, and it does many interesting things,” Nadella was quoted as saying. “It’s a bit of a celebrity.”
However, there is one basic difference in the use-case of Duplex and Xiaoice.
While Duplex uses the assistant to make calls to other persons, Xiaoice allows users to talk to the bot via phone calls. Interestingly, the underlying technology to do both tasks requires the same technical prowess and expertise.
“One of the things we started doing earlier this year is having full duplex conversations,” Nadella was quoted as saying. “So now Xiaoice can be conversing with you in WeChat and stop and call you. Then you can just talk to it using voice.”
The report said that Nadella's usage of the word duplex was in the context of two people conversing and not the Google Duplex technology.
Another reporter at The Verge said that the voice of Xiaoice sounded like a US newscaster who was fluent in Mandarin.