Microsoft's Build 2016 developer conference is well underway, with many a new unique and innovative developments coming to the Microsoft platform.
Refusing to be set back by the recent Tay Bot scandal, Microsoft announced an entirely new development platform based on programmable interactive bots and machine learning. In addition to introducing new APIs and frameworks for developers to harness these bots, previews of the new bots can now be found on the latest version of Skype for Windows desktop, as well as on Android and iOS. Predictably, Windows Phone users are excluded from this preview.
On the main sidebar of the desktop app, there exists a button that allows you to add bots to your contact list. Clicking on it will bring up a searchable list of what almost look extensions for Skype. Adding a bot seems a bit buggy, as you need to make sure you confirm the added contact, otherwise the bot will shortly add itself, but seemingly refuse to interact with you.
If you do the peacock dance correctly, you'll be rewarded with a message telling you how to use the given bot. At the moment, the bots behave like nothing more than glorified search engines, replying to whatever you enter with links corresponding to whatever you asked for.
The beauty of what's happening here lies not in what the bots are actually doing, but in how you're interacting with them. Rather than an actual search engine, you're typing a message to a bot, as though you were asking a question to an actual person. The bot replies, forming the basis of a conversation. Though these demos are primitive, they show the path to a future where your interactions with the digital world can be shaped by natural conversation rather than stiff keyboard clicking.
Microsoft will soon be enabling this sort of interaction through audio and video, bringing us one step closer to the science fiction ideal.