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Microsoft AI-Based Bots Tools Now Generally Available

Microsoft, one of the tech giants attempting to take artificial intelligence-based development mainstream, has made two tools crucial to this effort generally available to developers interested in programming bots and using natural language interfaces.

The move reflects that AI was recently named one of the three primary areas of focus for Microsoft by CEO Satya Nadella (along with quantum computing and mixed reality). Because of that, Microsoft developers and evangelists have been making the rounds to proselytize the company's approach to AI, of which bots programming is an integral part.

For example, Microsoft's Nick Landry forecast a bright future for AI-driven bots programming at the recent Visual Studio Live! conference in Orlando.

Landry, a senior technical evangelist, demonstrated to the VS Live! audience using the two tools just made generally available by Microsoft last month: Azure Bot Service and Microsoft Cognitive Services Language Understanding (LUIS).

Azure Bot Service helps developers create conversational interfaces on multiple channels, including Web sites, apps, Cortana, Microsoft Teams, Skype, Slack, Facebook Messenger and so on. LUIS, meanwhile, helps developers create customized natural interactions on any platform for bots or any other type of application.

LUIS is described as a machine learning-based service designed to help developers build natural language interactional into apps, bots and Internet-of-Things (IoT) devices.

Both the Bot Service and LUIS figured prominently in Landry's presentation, in which he noted: "LUIS is an incredible service, because this is where ... all these PhDs have built these APIs that you guys can just consume in a few minutes." He demonstrated how it works with a machine learning model he created. Upon processing some dialogue text, he said, "It takes the text, it parses it and it's going to tell me two things: what is the intent of the user; and then within that intent, what are the entities that the user is talking about."

He also demonstrated using the Microsoft Bot Framework, for which the Azure Bot Service was designed as an integrated environment in order to speed up development.

Microsoft's Conversational AI Approach
[Click on image for larger view.] Microsoft's Conversational AI Approach (source: Microsoft).

Along with announcing that Azure Bot Service and LUIS have been moved to general availability, Microsoft last month also announced new improvements to the tools. Azure Bot Service, for example, is available in more regions and now features premium channels for better communication with users, along with advanced customization capabilities.

LUIS, meanwhile, is also available in new regions and sports a new UI, more intents (tasks or actions identified in a sentence) and more entities (relevant information extracted from a sentence to complete a task or action associated with the intent) to improve conversational experiences in apps.

Along with the announcement post, Microsoft also published a deep dive into the tools' capabilities.

Further emphasizing its increased focus on bots programming and other AI-based initiatives, Microsoft also launched the AI School "to help developers get up to speed with all of these AI technologies."

About the Author

David Ramel is the editor of Visual Studio Magazine.

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