Google took us all by surprise at I/O 2018 earlier this month when it showcased its Google Duplex technology. It’s what allows a bot to make a phone call and talk to a real human being in order to accomplish tasks such as booking a table at a restaurant. The idea is to have users just command Assistant to do these tasks with Duplex making the call on their behalf to an actual business. Microsoft has been working on something similar for quite some time now essentially out of the public’s view as the tests have been limited to China. It’s where its AI bot can also make phone calls to humans.
Microsoft has been testing its Xiaoice (SHAO-ICE) artificial intelligence bot in China for some time and it already has more than 500 million “friends,” according to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella who talked more about the tech at an artificial intelligence event in London today.
Xiaoice has more than 16 channels for Chinese users who want to interact with it through WeChat and other services. Xiaoice even has her own TV show and does many interesting things, according to Nadella. Many users love it as it gives off the impression that it’s a human being that can actually be their friend.
The bot primarily interacts with users through text conversations but Microsoft has now allowed it to call users on their phones. It’s a bit different from Duplex which calls businesses on your behalf as Xiaoice calls the user to have a conversation with them. “One of the things we started doing earlier this year is having full duplex conversations,” Nadella said, adding that Xiaoice can be conversing with the user in WeChat and then stop and call them on their phone and talk to them using voice.
It’s worth noting here that “full duplex” is what you call a conversation in which both participants can speak at the same time. It has nothing to do with Google Duplex as the internet search giant has named its product on this concept as well.
Nadella mentioned that Xiaoice has already made more than a million calls so far in China and its demo shows that the bot is even capable of predicting what the user is going to say next and respond accordingly.
It’s unclear when Microsoft intends to demonstrate this technology in the West where Google is now setting the narrative with Duplex but it goes to show that it’s far from the only company that has been working on getting bots to talk to humans using voice.