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All posts tagged Conversations as a Platform

Microsoft Bot Framework Was Announced Last Week…

We got to hear about the new Microsoft Bot Framework at BUILD2016 when it was launched for developers as part of Satya Nadella’s overall vision for Microsoft under the banner of Conversations as a Platform.

After announcing the release of the framework and giving developers access to the preview, Microsoft also announced that Skype would be integrating one of these intelligent Bots, in addition to the pending Cortana integration.

What is the Microsoft Bot Framework?

Ever been to a website and a small chat window opens and an agent begins to converse with you? Now imagine a world where this could be automated but not just simple responses that go of-track rapidly.

Microsoft have created a framework for intelligent Bots in mobile and web. A framework that allows for natural language processing, machine and deep learning. Bots that can hold their own in conversation, that understand synonyms and can be taught to process varied speech patterns and provide appropriate responses.

That said, Microsoft learnt over the last few weeks that machine learning requires some constraints or monitoring. After launching Tay AI in the US, it became rapidly apparent that unmonitored release to the wild has bad ramifications.

The demonstrations at BUILD gave us a preview of just how Bots are going to become a pervasive part of our mobile and desktop connected experience. The Cortana Intelligence Suite (Bot Framework, Machine Learning & Cognitive Services) allow developers to easily and rapidly create and deploy these Bots to take your pizza delivery order, help you book a hotel room and do so by allowing Cortana to interact with the booking Bot.

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The demo also included a peek at the administrator web UI and Microsoft have outdone themselves by making this gloriously easy to create or modify your Bot. Furthermore, Bots will have a dictionary of synonyms for their conversations which app developers can share between apps. The Microsoft Bot Framework won’t be alone as we can expect a Bot directory. If that wasn’t enough, Microsoft are not just restricting this to their own apps and services but this is open to other apps e.g. Slack.

How Does This Change Social Forever?

A close Facebook friend shared this great video from Truly Social with Tara’s Facebook page. (Sidebar: if you want a really upbeat, brilliant and highly informative take on Social, get to this page, like it and read / watch the fantastic content). A big thank you to Shari of Shar-i | Digital Marketing Consultant for the timely share.

In this video, Tara talks about what is and isn’t Social. She focuses on how scheduled posts do not meet these criteria.

Today, I discuss what is social, what is NOT social, and why this matters.

Posted by Truly Social with Tara on Sunday, 3 April 2016

Hold onto those comments and watch the amazing video. With thanks to Truly Social with Tara.

Automation is a tool and does not meet the definition of Social. Good, Bad or Indifferent it’s worth considering why this is important. There is a difference between dropping a scheduled post in another time zone or being awake to converse following someone’s Like, Retweet or +1.

Tara defines Social in the video based on 3 criteria: –

Microsoft Bot Framework - Tara's Definition of Social

Now look at the definition. Now look at how the Microsoft Bot Framework is described. Now look back at the definition. Microsoft’s intent for Bots meets these criteria. Satya Nadella even calls this part of Conversations as a Platform.

Meanwhile, just yesterday Kik announced a Bot shop for their chat app. Facebook are expected to launch their own Messenger Bot within a week. The Bots are coming and the more intelligent we make them, the more they are going to interact with us and us with them…

Microsoft Bot Framework - Luthor the bots are coming

The Warptest POV

Many adherents to Tara’s point of view are going to strongly disagree with me.

Bots cannot be Social!

Bots cannot replace the interaction, connection or value of conversation between people. However, the Microsoft Bot Framework offers a powerful, versatile way to imagine and create Bots that will come very close.

Social interaction and conversation are going to evolve. In this case, limited by the skill Bot builders bring to bear. The new generation of Bots are going to challenge our preconceptions and it won’t be limited to chat.

Microsoft have learnt from the Tay AI experience and we will benefit from their solutions derived. The naysayers will continue to use the SkyNET analogy but this evolution of conversation is happening now.

So, are you going to let the Bots replace your interactions or complement them. I would go for the first option.

I’m excited to see how different mobile and web apps are going to use Bots and I may even have to build my own.

How about you? Are you ready to evolve your conversations and how you perceive Social?

Going to Microsoft BUILD 2016 Is A Dream…

Instead I watched BUILD 2016 on my laptop on livestream via Microsoft Channel 9. BUILD is the developer conference if you work in the Microsoft ecosystem and is a conference that sells out usually within hours of registration opening. (Other livestream panels can be seen via the CH9 link from the conference).

After 3 days following social media it appears that Microsoft managed to cram a colossal amount of news into a 3-day conference.

The event began today and kicked off with a keynote speech from CEO, Satya Nadella, with him handing over the reins at different stages to variety of Microsoft personnel to present on their niche(s).

BUILD 2016 - Keynote Day 1 - Satya Nadella

The first keynote lasted 3 hours and some of the tech blogs predictions were accurate but as usual Microsoft were able to surprise developers and general viewers alike.

BUILD 2016 Keynote Highlights

The keynote began with Satya Nadella leading with his philosophy regarding the challenges facing technological advancement, social impact and the ramifications for developers. He added that the benefit of a conference for developers is that they come ready inspired.

After reiterating Microsoft’s fundamental philosophy of mobile first, cloud first and highlighting the mission statement. He cited both Azure and Office365 as mainstays of this, mentioning the recently announced Office Connectors and add-ons and the ever increasing value of rich semantic data that delivering Microsoft Graph would grant developers.

The first focus was on personal computing and Windows 10:

Windows 10 was described again as a comprehensive ecosystem of devices ranging from IOT all the way thru to Hololens. Satya Nadella then made first mention of a new emerging platform:

BUILD 2016 - Conversations as a Platform

Digesting Everything Announced at BUILD 2016

After spending some time digesting all the news from the BUILD 2016 keynote it was tough to wrap one’s head around all the news and how it fit together. The word that kept percolating through was evolution. Some of these evolutions have been ongoing until today but others are radical departures from the Microsoft of yesterday:

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  • EVOLUTION of Devices: Windows 10 is on over 270 million devices ranging from IOT, phones, tablets, laptops, desktops and the 84″ Surface Hub.
    • Terry Myerson discussed this and that OEMs are now producing more than 500 new Windows 10 devices. He announced the Windows 10 Anniversary Update, ETA in Summer 2016. The Anniversary Update will include radical improvements including Edge browser support for Windows Hello (biometric authentication) for web sites / apps that choose to support this.
    • Myerson handed over to the Microsoft king of presentations, Bryan Roper who demonstrated Hello in Edge and the all new, advanced Inking platform in Windows.
  • EVOLUTION of Mobility:
    • In March 27th 2014 Satya Nadella gave his mobile first, cloud first press conference. This was a pivotal moment for Microsoft where Nadella described the mobility of users and their data across devices. This has defined every step of the overall evolution of Microsoft since.
  • EVOLUTION of Personal Computing: HoloLens was front and center at BUILD 2016. The amazing untethered, holographic computer was introduced by Alex Kipman with the announcements that:
    • The Developer version of HoloLens was shipping as that day.
    • The HoloLens app competition had chosen Galaxy Explorer and it was both going live in the app store and is open-sourced on GitHub.
    • NASA will be letting visitors to Kennedy Space Center explore Mars using HoloLens with the JPL app, Destination: Mars. The app will have holographic tour guides, including
      & immortalizing Astronaut Buzz Aldrin.
    • Alex Kipman introduced a demonstration from Case Western Medical School of how they use HoloLens to teach medical students anatomy, physiology and more from an immersive perspective.
  • EVOLUTION of Man Machine Interface (MMI): the keynote mentioned evolving beyond the keyboard and mouse as our primary interface with Windows 10 devices.
    • This includes the Windows Anniversary update advanced inking platform. Bryan Roper demonstrated just how this would work with deeper integration, click the pen to access the Inking workspace, a virtual ruler, writing words like “tomorrow” when penned in sticky notes trigger Cortana reminders, ink on maps adhering to coordinates even when maps change from 2D to 3D, and a demo from Kevin Gallo of how to easily use 2 lines of XAML to integrate inking into your app.
    • Cortana: the personal assistant is now available on Windows 10, Windows Mobile, iOS and Android. In addition, Cortana will be receiving new features as part of the Anniversary Update including lock screen support.
  • EVOLUTION of the Desktop App: businesses using older Windows with custom software expressed reluctance to upgrade to Windows 10. This was out of fear that this crucial software would stop working:
    • Microsoft announced a solution for this, Project Centennial. This is a tool to convert existing 32-Bit, COM & .NET software into Universal apps, ready for the Windows Store. In addition to pure functional conversion, this provided store, Live Tile support and access to UWP APIs for these apps.
    • This was demoed at different stages with SAGE and Witcher the PC game.
    • In addition to pure functional conversion, this provided store and live tile support for these apps.
  • EVOLUTION of the Gaming Console: Xbox One is no longer a standalone console for game play. Fulfilling the mobile first, cloud first philosophy the Xbox is connected to Windows 10 devices:
    • Xbox developers will be able to set their Xbox to developer mode and test apps on the actual Xbox.
    • The demo and focus was oriented towards building apps for Xbox, not just games.
    • In an incredibly logical move, the store will become unified for Xbox and Windows.
    • The desktop app converter will also support win32 games.
    • The Xbox Anniversary Update will finally bring Cortana (as a personal gaming assistant) to Xbox.
    • DirectX 12 was demonstrated, displaying incredible performance and rendering improvements in games.
    • UWP apps are coming to Xbox from NASCAR, HULU, DailyMotion and Nickleodeon.
  • EVOLUTION of App Development:
    • Throughout the keynote the Universal Windows Platform (UWP) was mentioned multiple times, citing a 60% growth in app developers.
    • Terry Myerson announced new and pending universal apps for Twitter, Uber, Disney, Starbucks, Facebook, Instagram, FB Messenger and more.
    • In addition, Myerson announced that Facebook Audience Network SDK for advertising would be coming for UWP.
    • In addition to consumer apps, the massive adoption of Windows 10 in the business sector means the growth of business apps. This led into the onscreen demo by Boeing of their virtual flight-bag for pilots.
    • Kevin Gallo presented the improved, richer and more immersive design of UWP and GPU effects for apps.
    • Gallo also announced the release of Visual Studio update 2 & a preview of the Anniversary Update.
    • Rumors were confirmed of Ubuntu Linux’s BASH shell coming to Windows 10. Developers can run their BASH scripts from within Windows.
    • Xamarin developers were ecstatic to here that Xamarin would be integrated into Visual Studio and free. The runtime will also be open-sourced.
    • UWP and Xamarin mean cross-platform apps and full emulation in VS. iOS apps will be supported by a remote designer.
    • Microsoft announced releasing Microsoft Graph, allowing app developers to integrate super-powered actionable intelligence from the Microsoft cloud.
  • EVOLUTION of Productivity: Office 365 has garnered incredible adoption as the cross-device, cross-platform productivity suite:
    • Office has 1.2 billion users, 60 million Office 365 commercial customers and there have been 340 million downloads of Office Mobile Apps.
    • Office Connectors will allow seamless integration between Outlook and Trello, Slack, MailChimp, Asana, GitHub, Stack Overflow, Aha, Zendesk, Salesforce, Twitter and UserVoice (for example).
    • Starbucks announced during the event that they are integrating with Outlook to allow email distribution of their gift cards to one or many recipients.
    • Greater Cortana integration with Office, interfacing with Outlook. Developers were able from that time to access the preview of pro-active actions for Cortana. This is akin to IFTTT for Cortana, is an app connector.
  • EVOLUTION of Conversations as a Platform: Satya Nadella introduced this concept early in the keynote and after a brief semi-humorous mention of the issues Microsoft had encountered with Tay AI he went on to explain the enrichment of interaction / interface with our devices through Cortana and that the future was thru conversation. Not just human to human but also human to Cortana and human to Bot.
    • The example demoed first was bringing Cortana and or Bots into conversations in Skype.
    • Skype will be a fully cross-platform, smarter and more entertaining experience.
    • Cortana will be always present in Skype able to detect contextual data and react e.g. a conference invite accepted > Cortana offers to block off the dates in the calendar > detects the event location and offers to book a hotel > detects and offers to contact local contacts to inform them the user will be at the event on those dates > Hotel Bot interacts with Skype user to make the booking …
    • This intelligent interaction will be available for chat and real-time video.
    • Developers can receive access to the Skype Bot SDK.
    • Consumers will see Skype bots in Windows 10, iOS and Android
    • Skype for HoloLens was demoed also.
    • The Cortana Intelligence Suite, a new runtime would be available to developers from this point. This provides big data analytics and actionable intelligence on business data, combining this with machine learning and Azure cloud.
    • To facilitate developers integrating Bots seamlessly in their apps, the Microsoft Bot Framework was released. This is an open-source Bot Builder SDK, available on GitHub. Developers can code using either C# or Node.js to create intelligent Bots that can interact within Office 365, Skype, Slack or other applications.
    • Developers were granted a sneak peek of some of the new Bot features & controls including tools for natural language rules (suggested synonyms, shared dictionaries across Bot, machine learning and deep learning). Bot implementation is implemented in a highly intuitive UI.
    • To facilitate some of the “heavy lifting” involved, Microsoft introduced Cognitive Services. These APIs provide an extensive toolbox for developers who wish to integrate vision, speech, search, language and knowledge into their apps.

BUILD 2016 - The Bots are coming - Luthor

Image: with thanks to the “Superman vs Batman: Dawn of Justice” trailer.

The Warptest POV

Anyone following BUILD 2016 who has anything to do with development probably felt like a kid in a candy store. Whilst the points noted above were many of the evolutions available for developers to preview or use, this was not everything.

Two things were clear:

  1. BUILD 2016 is no iteration; this is a quantum leap in personal computing.
  2. Microsoft are doing everything to encourage developers, consumers and business into upgrading all their devices to Windows 10.

The rewards for doing so are the slew of tools SDKs and evolutions into new areas of computing. Users in every niche are only going to benefit from being on Windows 10 devices. The only sticking point is tertiary hardware and peripherals whose drivers aren’t supported in Windows 10. Time will make this a redundant issue as hardware is replaced.

The major news to take away from BUILD 2016 (and the ramifications for all users and competitors) are:

  • Conversations as a Platform: intelligent Bots and more.
  • Universal Windows Platform: one can assume that most if not all of these apps will implicitly be on Windows Mobile.
  • Deep Cortana integration: Cortana is only going to get smarter and more useful.
  • BASH on Windows 10: the world has not flipped on its head; this is really happening.
  • App Development has opened up in a big way, with incredible services available for developers to create rich, intelligent apps.

This is an incredible time to be a developer working in the Microsoft ecosystem. Apps are evolving from isolated into apps that can interact, share data and react to events and data from other apps.

Satya Nadella closed his BUILD 2016 keynote by introducing sight-impaired software engineer, Saqib Shaikh who had with his phone and smart-glasses created an app that uses advanced image processing and other features to let him see the world around him. The app interprets facial expressions and real life events occurring around him.

One thing is clear, Microsoft have not completed their quantum leap. Whilst there was not a major focus on Windows Mobile, one doesn’t have to think hard to realize that Microsoft is working on a major step forward. This is not just in design or hardware spec but, I suspect in a new hybrid device. This device will probably build on all these evolutions, Continuum and other services to take Windows Mobile in bold new directions.

You don’t have to be a developer to be thrilled and excited by the huge potential of everything announced at BUILD 2016. Are you ready to change how you interact with your devices and apps?