Chatbots became known to the public in 1963 when computer scientist Joseph Weizenbaum created Eliza, a computer program that simulated communicating with a human. Since then chatbots have evolved, becoming more widely used and powerful.
Microsoft has long been interested in bots and during its Build Conference this year, the company announced it is bringing video bots to Skype. Bot builders looking to integrate video bots into conversations can use the BotBuilder-RealTimeMediaCalling extension on Github to get started. Furthermore, the Redmond giant plans to roll-out Skype Add-ins, a new tool that will make it easier for developers to integrate their work in to 1:1 and group chats.
In a stark contrast with the relatively dim customer service-oriented bots of years past, Microsoft’s video bots will be far more advanced. Now with Microsoft’s real-time media platform for bots in place, developers are invited to create educational and entertainment assistance bots with built-in media experience. For example, such bots might be able to act as your virtual assistant and interview a candidate, when your schedule doesn’t allow you to do it yourself.
On top of video bots, Microsoft also introduced Skype Web Control, a new feature which allows developers to embed chat – both human and bot – right into a website. In turn this will allow businesses to conduct all customer service procedures via Skype without the need of signing in. The chat app is no stranger to bots. During the same event last year, Microsoft announced a host of chatbots including automated AI assistants for holiday price comparison sites Skyscanner and Hipmunk, as well as ticket store Stubhub and the IFTTT messaging service.
Returning to the present, Microsoft is also making it easier for developers to make money off bots, by allowing them to enable payments within bots via the Bot Framework. From now on, bot creators will be able to accept payments in a Skype Bot chat session by using Redmond’s secure payment processing service, Microsoft Checkout.
Moving beyond the Skype realm, Microsoft also announced a new chatbot search feature in Bing. Redmond now allows users to perform a quick bot search and to add them directly to messaging apps such as Facebook Messenger, Slack, Telegram and Skype.
It also took the wraps off the Bing InfoBot, which in theory should allow website creators to add conversational capabilities to their website without the hassle of custom development. At the moment, Bing InfoBot is in its experimental phase being tested out on selected websites like WebMD, Stack Overflow or Wikipedia.
Microsoft promised ever since the Developer Conference in 2016 that video bots will soon arrive to conversational platforms, hinting that not only Skype will get the treatment. It took the company almost a year to make this happen, but better late than never.
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