What’s Microsoft’s vision for conversational AI? Computers that understand you

Today’s intelligent assistants are full of skills. They can check the weather, traffic and sports scores. They can play music, translate words and send text messages. They can even do math, tell jokes and read stories. But, when it comes to conversations that lead somewhere grander, the wheels fall off.

“You have to poke around for magic combinations of words to get various things to happen, and you find out that a lot of the functions that you expect the thing to do, it actually just can’t handle,” said Dan Roth, corporate vice president and former CEO of Semantic Machines, which Microsoft acquired in May 2018.

For example, he explained, systems today can add a new appointment to your calendar but not engage in a back-and-forth dialogue with you about how to juggle a high-priority meeting request. They are also unable to use contextual information from one skill to assist you in making decisions from another, such as checking the weather before scheduling an afternoon meeting on the patio of a nearby coffee shop.

The next generation of intelligent assistant technologies from Microsoft will be able to do this by leveraging breakthroughs in conversational artificial intelligence and machine learning pioneered by Semantic Machines.

The team unveiled its vision for the next leap in natural language interface technology today at Microsoft Build, an annual conference for developers, in Seattle, and announced plans to incorporate this technology into all of its conversational AI products and tools, including Cortana.