5 tips to humanize your chatbot

Chatbots are an increasing part of our daily lives, redefining how we engage with the internet and with businesses. Canadian messaging company Kik explains it like this: “First there were websites, then there were apps. Now, there are bots.” Just like the early internet, bots are set to transform commerce as we know it, making it easier than ever for consumers to reach, engage, and transact through instant commands. Continue reading “5 tips to humanize your chatbot”

VR transforms health care: 3D human model coming to a school near you

Surrounded by darkness, the looming 20 foot skull is so close I can touch it. With the click of a mouse, the 3D model of the human head and neck pivots and I’m inside the eye socket examining this complex system from the inside out. It’s A viewpoint typically reserved for surgeons on the operating table; I’m amazed by the scale and detail of the mechanism that gives us the miracle of sight. Continue reading “VR transforms health care: 3D human model coming to a school near you”

Microsoft’s mixed-reality tech is finally gaining traction with brands

Although its application programming interface has been open to developers since March 2016, Microsoft’s HoloLens, a mixed-reality headset, has not received the same attention from brands as Apple’s ARKit, which brands were quick to apply when it came out in September. The reason: The average person can’t afford HoloLens’ hefty $3,000 price tag, whereas anyone with an iPhone can download Apple’s new AR apps.

All brands haven’t been deterred from incorporating HoloLens, though, with Microsoft creating its Mixed Reality Partner Program in July due to growing demand. In the past few months, luxury alcohol brands, car brands and airlines have used the technology to either tell the story behind their products or design new ones.

The Macallan

An attendee of The Macallan’s “Gallery 12” wears HoloLens. Source: The Macallan

Luxury Scotch whisky brand The Macallan developed a mixed-reality app for HoloLens to enhance its “Gallery 12″ art exhibit, which debuted on Oct. 17 in New York City. Guests can use HoloLens to learn the history of two of the brand’s 12-year-old whiskies — Sherry Oak and Double Cask — and the origins of their flavors as they view whisky-inspired art pieces. Users can see the American and European oak forests where the whiskies originated with HoloLens. After New York, the experience will move to Miami, Chicago, Houston and San Francisco, concluding at the end of October.

Raul Gonzalez, vp of marketing and business Development at The Macallan, said the brand added HoloLens to “Gallery 12” as a “fun way for drinkers to learn about and enjoy both 12-year-old whiskies.” He said the app took a year to create.

The Macallan doesn’t expect people to purchase HoloLens after the exhibit ends. To make “Gallery 12” more accessible, The Macallan replicated the experience using Apple’s ARKit, Gonzalez said. The brand said it’s likely that it will use HoloLens to showcase future interactive art pieces.

Rémy Martin

A user views “Rooted in Experience.” Source: Rémy Martin

In June, spirits company Rémy Martin introduced its “Rooted in Exception” mixed-reality app for HoloLens. The app, created with European HoloLens development studio Kazendi, educates users about how Rémy Martin’s Cognac Fine Champagne is created. Users can move virtual vineyards that appear in front of them. The brand is setting up HoloLens headsets at luxury retail stores and events at various locations around the world.

“Microsoft’s HoloLens technology came naturally as an immediate innovation answer to sharing these moments in an emerging social space,” said Augustin Depardon, global executive director of Rémy Martin, in a news release.


Car brands like Volkswagen, Volvo, Renault and Audi have experimented with HoloLens, but Ford is the first to make a global push, announcing at the end of September that it would roll out a new global test with the technology after piloting it for the past year. Ford engineers and designers are using HoloLens to create car prototypes, overlaying 3-D holograms onto real cars so that designers can see how a design might look from 360 degrees — a faster approach than the clay models they usually work with.

“When developing a computer-designed part or crafting a full-size clay model, it could take days or weeks to finally look at what the designer wanted to see,” writes Jim Holland, vp of vehicle components and systems at Ford, in a post on Medium. Using HoloLens, the entire process takes a few hours, he explains in the post. Although Ford consumers won’t directly experience this application of HoloLens, Holland writes that the brand is using the technology to identify problems that people want solved.

Air New Zealand

Air New Zealand announced in May that it is beta testing HoloLens for its flight attendants. A flight attendant wearing a HoloLens headset would be able to view information about customers that would appear next to them, such as their flight details, what they have ordered on board and their emotional state. “This is about enhancing the customer experience using technology to provide more information for our crew in order to understand our customers’ needs better,” said Leeanne Langridge, Air New Zealand’s gm of cabin crew.

Other airlines have used HoloLens headsets in the past year as well. Japan Airlines, for instance, is using HoloLens to train its mechanics and flight crew.

The post Microsoft’s mixed-reality tech is finally gaining traction with brands appeared first on Digiday.

Everything Microsoft announced at Build 2017

So Microsoft’s annual Build developer conference came and went, and the computing giant unveiled a number of initiatives aimed at the software engineers and web developers of the world.

From Windows 10 to Cortana and bots, here’s a quick recap of everything announced at Build 2017.

Embracing the competition

A core theme to emerge from Build 2017 was Microsoft’s tacit acknowledgement that it needs to embrace competing platforms if it’s to thrive as a software and services company.

Though iTunes has been available on Windows for more than a decade, Microsoft revealed that Apple’s media-focused software would be landing in the Windows Store later this year, a key launch given the impending arrival of Windows 10 S which can only use apps available in the Windows Store.

Elsewhere, Microsoft also announced that its cloud storage service, OneDrive, would soon work with Apple’s iMessage, letting users share documents and photos with friends without leaving their iMessage chat. As part of the same announcement, Microsoft revealed that it was opening offline access to folders within OneDrive on Android, with support for iOS users coming later this year.

Microsoft also unveiled Xamarin Live Player in preview, which is effectively a “live coding environment” for developers to debug Android and iOS apps without SDKs or emulators.

Additionally, Microsoft’s integrated development environment (IDE), Visual Studio, was also launched out of preview for Mac. And as another swift reminder that Microsoft has been increasingly prioritizing the “big 2” mobile operating systems over its own, the company finally revealed that Visual Studio Mobile Center was finally getting Windows support — seven months after debuting with support only for Android and iOS.

In a show of support for developers and fans of Linux, Microsoft also revealed that Ubuntu, Suse Linux, and Fedora are all coming to the Windows Store, making it easier to run Linux apps on Windows 10 devices.

Bots, Cortana, & AI

A little more than a year after launching its Bot Framework, Microsoft revealed that it’s now used by over 130,000 developers. With that in mind, the company used Build 2017 to announce that Bing search results now include Skype bots, in addition to myriad chat apps including Slack, Facebook Messenger, and Telegram. Bots will also soon be able to join video conversations in Skype, with developers able to use the BotBuilder RealTimeMediaCalling extension on Github, which just entered preview.

Microsoft also revealed that Cognitive Services, a conduit for third-parties to access its AI algorithms for “vision, speech, language, and knowledge,” was arriving on a bot-to-bot communication platform Interbot, a product from Gupshup. Related to this, Microsoft announced it was releasing four new customizable artificial intelligence services via Cognitive Services, allowing developers to build even more AI into their own products.

A number of announcements were also made relating to Cortana, Microsoft’s voice-enabled digital assistant. The company announced a public preview of its Cortana Skills Kit that enables developers to create voice apps for Cortana, and more than 20 such apps made their debut at Build. The software giant also revealed that it was working with both Intel and HP to bring more Cortana-powered devices to market.

Microsoft’s bread and butter

Microsoft announced some interesting tidbits about its core bread and butter services, in addition to making a few surprise announcements.

The company gave a glimpse into how it wants to tie its various apps, products, and platforms together with the Microsoft Fluent Design System, which is effectively guidelines to enable Microsoft to evolve its Metro/Modern UI design language, replete with rules for developers creating software to run on Windows 10.

Microsoft also demonstrated Windows 10 running on devices with ARM processors, with full support for existing Win32 apps. And it also revealed that Windows 10 is now installed on more than 500 million devices, a feat that took around 21 months to achieve.

Looking to the future, Microsoft announced a new Windows 10 Fall Creators Update, which is coming later this year, with the company teasing a new creative app called Windows Story Remix that uses the Microsoft Graph to transform and combine your photos and videos.

As part of the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update, Microsoft also outlined plans to launch OneDrive files on-demand, a feature that lets users access their files online without having to download them and consume valuable storage space on their devices.

Elsewhere, Microsoft had a little news to share around its cloud computer service Azure. With Azure Cosmos DB, Microsoft is offering a globally distributed database with five consistency choices, rather than forcing developers to choose between strong and eventual consistency.

Other notable announcements to emerge from Build include: developers can now publish Microsoft Teams apps to the Office Store, while Microsoft unveiled its first Windows Mixed Reality motion controllers, alongside a mixed reality developer kit.

Finally, one of the more interesting early-stage products to emerge at Build was the Emma Watch, a wearable that counters Parkinson’s tremors through using vibrations.

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Microsoft’s Bing search results now include bots

The Bing search engine can now surface bots in its search results when you search for a business.

The news was announced today at Build, Microsoft’s annual developer conference, taking place May 10-12 in Seattle. The Microsoft Bot Framework, a toolkit for creating bots for more than half a dozen chat apps and Bing.com, was first launched at Build in San Francisco last year.

Hints of bots in Bing search results first occurred last month and again last week.

To test the bots on Bing feature, search “Monsoon Restaurant Seattle” now and try out the experience.

The bots pop up on Bing.com in the bottom right-hand corner of the screen, similar to a Facebook Messenger or Google Hangouts message notification. Any conversations with the bot automatically carries over and can be continued on Skype.

Bots on Bing will begin with businesses, but experimentation may happen with other kinds of bots and popular search destinations.

Bing began adding bots to its search engine by speaking with businesses with high search traffic and reminding them of the sorts of questions people were asking about their business in search.

VentureBeat and other news outlets reported last week that the possibility of bots in Bing search results

Microsoft also announced Wednesday that its Cortana Skill Kit is now publicly available so developers can begin to create voice apps for the intelligent assistant. Changes are also expected for Microsoft Bot Framework, and Microsoft Cognitive Services, which can supply the AI smarts for bots.

Lili Cheng is general manager of Fuse Labs at Microsoft Research, the group that created the Microsoft Bot Framework and bots like the famous Xiaoice and the infamous Tay bot.

The Bing team is beginning to promote bots to business owners by reminding them of the traffic they receive, the kinds of questions patrons are asking about a business, and how a bot may be able to address these questions.

Standards will be important for businesses using Bing on bots so that people can understand the experience they’re having. Bot experiences today range from a natural language processing bot that text-chats to an NLP-free guided experience with buttons and cards. Some combine the two interfaces, while chat extensions on Facebook Messenger only operate in webview.

Cheng says even after a year of bots on Microsoft devices, a lot of people still don’t know what bots do. Using a standard format and approach will help consumers get familiar with what to expect when speaking to a business’ bot.

Another advantage Bing has is that it can act as kind of a directory for bots. In addition to finding bots on the search result page for a business, Bing users will be able to search for bots overall and bots by categories.

A search engine for bots is an idea Cheng first shared with VentureBeat last fall, and she said Microsoft continues to talk with partners like Slack and Facebook.

“They show you how people interact with a bot that they’d never interact with in search, because in search you’re just trying to type in a word and click and you’re on the restaurant page,” she said. “When they click on the bot, they engage a lot more, and I think what we’re doing is also we’re able to give the businesses more data about how people interact with them.”

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