Natural Conversations for Microsoft Xiaolce Chatbot
Written by Lucy Black   
Thursday, 05 April 2018

Microsoft has made another technological breakthrough towards enabling chatbots to have natural interaction with humans. Borrowing the term "full duplex" from telecommunications jargon, the new ability is for two-way communication, akin to listening and speaking at the same time.

 

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Microsoft has recently incorporated this new feature into Xiaolce its artificial intelligence-powered social chatbot in China, which has more than 200 million users in Asia.

Li Zhou, lead engineer for Xiaolce explains that currently when people interact with most personal digital assistants or chatbots today, the experience is a lot like speaking into a walkie-talkie or texting. In this "half-duplex" mode first one party says or writes something, and then the other party digests that information and responds. While it works it isn't how humans interact with one another. When chatting in person or on the phone both parties will be talking and listening at the same time, predicting what the other person will say and even finishing sentences for them.

It is this full-duplex mode that Zhou says is the art of conversation that people use in their daily life and it has now been built into Xiaolce. It expands the chatbot's ability to predict what the person she is talking with will say next. That helps her make decisions about both how and when to respond to someone who is chatting with her and reduces the unnatural lag time that can make interaction with chatbots feel awkward or forced. In  addition, the new technology means that users don’t have to use a “wake word” – usually, the chatbot’s name – every time they respond during conversations.

According to Microsoft, this breakthrough builds on other skills XiaoIce has developed, such as the ability to pause one thing she’s doing – telling you a story, for example – so she can do something else, like turn on a light. She can then remember to go back to telling the story – again, much like a person can switch topics in a conversation for a bit but then return to the original topic.

Di Li, Microsoft’s general manager for XiaoIce, said all these improvements are part of Microsoft’s effort to build AI-powered social chatbots that understand people’s emotional as well as intellectual needs. 

Microsoft is working towards applying the same advances to Zo, its US based social chatbot, and eventually to Ruuh in India and Rinna in Japan and Indonesia. But don't expect Cortana to start finishing your sentences. She's a productivity-focused assistant and that's a different category from social chatbot, which are designed to have longer, more conversational sessions with users and therefore are imbued with a sense of humor and the ability to engage in interesting banter. In this context full-duplex is very worthwhile as it's very natural .

 

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More Information

Like a phone call: XiaoIce, Microsoft’s social chatbot in China, makes breakthrough in natural conversation

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Last Updated ( Thursday, 05 April 2018 )