Microsoft buys bot studio Xoxco to shore up conversational AI capabilities
- Microsoft announced plans to buy chatbot development software vendor Xoxco, according to a company blog post. Xoxco makes products including Howdy.ai, the first commercially available bot that helps schedule meetings on Slack, the cloud-based collaboration software.
- Xoxco also makes Botkit, which provides development tools used by hundreds of thousands of developers on GitHub, the code repository that Microsoft bought earlier this year for $7.5 billion. The tech giant seeks to boost bot development on its Microsoft Bot Framework, available as a service in Azure and on GitHub.
- Microsoft aims to make AI more accessible to consumers and businesses while also incorporating the technology into its products and services. Conversational AI is part of the company’s efforts to help developers create experiences that do more with speech and language, according to its blog post.
Microsoft's acquisition of Xoxco is part the tech giant's broader push into AI development, including chatbots that emulate human conversation. As the company notes, it has bought several AI development companies this year, including conversational AI developer Semantic Machines in May, reinforcement learning and simulation company Bonsai in July and deep learning specialist Lobe in September.
Microsoft is among the tech giants that are developing chatbot technology, a list that includes Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google. While the level of excitement around the technology has been tempered somewhat after an initial flurry of adoption a couple of years ago, it continues to improve and is likely to broadly transform how brands interact with consumers. A majority of consumers like the idea of chatbots, with 65% globally saying they'd like to use messaging services to interact with companies, according to an Opinium Research survey commissioned by Salesforce's MuleSoft. But companies also need to be careful with automated conversations, as the survey also found that while 43% of global consumers have engaged with a chatbot when contacting an organization in the past year, only 38% said their query had been completely resolved.
Microsoft has worked on various conversational AI projects during the past few years. It created the notorious Tay.ai bot, which had to be shut down after learning how to make racist remarks from interactions with Twitter users. Learning from that experience, the company is working on AI bots including Xiaoice, Ruuh, Rinna and Zo.ai. Meanwhile, Microsoft is repositioning Cortana, its personal digital assistant — which isn't as popular as rivals like Apple's Siri or Amazon's Alexa — as a productivity aide, according to ZDNet.