Microsoft Build round-up: More AI chatbots and HoloLens emulator

31 Mar 2016

Microsoft Build 2016 offered us a glimpse of where we can expect Microsoft to start gravitating towards as a company, with its CEO, Satya Nadella, clearly seeing AI and augmented reality (AR) as the future.

Perhaps the biggest news to come from Microsoft Build this year was the rather timely announcement that the company plans on dedicating considerable effort towards developing a series of AI chatbots that could eventually take over the customer service industry, and other sectors.

This is interesting given Microsoft’s recent experiment of releasing an AI chatbot aimed at learning from millennials – Tay – loose on the wild plains of Twitter, resulting in it unwittingly repeating some truly horrific statements that led to it being taken down, not once, but twice.

‘Back to the drawing board’

Speaking with Bloomberg prior to Build, the head of Microsoft Research, Lili Cheng, said that the plan for Microsoft in the coming years is to develop a whole series of Tay-like bots with a whole range of different personalities.

In fact, Microsoft is banking on a future whereby the current way we use apps on phones will become obsolete in favour of what would be myriad personal assistants that you’d have conversations with to get them to do what you want.

During his keynote at Build, Nadella had to address the crowd about the obvious failings of Tay, saying only: “We want to build technology so it gets the best of humanity, not the worst. We quickly realised [Tay] was not up to this mark and so we are back to the drawing board.”

HoloLens without the HoloLens

Elsewhere, the other news from Microsoft concerned its development of what appears to be the frontrunner to be the first true AR headset, the HoloLens.

While companies have been rushing to release virtual reality (VR) gaming headsets this year, Microsoft rather sees a future where we still live in a visible world and interact with ‘invisible’ objects, rather than encapsulating ourselves entirely in virtual worlds.

To that end, Venture Beat said, Microsoft wants to let developers tinker around with the HoloLens software before it comes out using an open source emulator.

HoloLens Scott Kelly

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly wearing the HoloLens aboard the International Space Station. Image via NASA

As shown in its previous demos, the HoloLens will project holographic images onto the lens of the device for the user to interact with, whether it’s for entertainment or, as many retailers are beginning to realise, the purchase of clothing, household goods or even cars.

Microsoft has now started issuing the first headsets to developers for a cool $3,000, but with an emulator developers would be able to create the first holographic apps without the need to buy a headset.

Instead, a developer could use a keyboard and mouse, or an Xbox controller, to simulate movement in the same way you would with a HoloLens headset.

Strangely, Nadella and co did not reveal this news on stage, deciding it would rather release it quietly.

Windows 10 and greater indie game developer options

As for updates on where Microsoft is at with its Windows 10 operating system, it would seem that its adoption rate is the highest ever achieved by Microsoft in its history, with more than 270m users upgrading to Windows 10 or buying a new computer with it installed.

According to ArsTechnica, Microsoft said this would surpass the adoption rate for Windows 7 by as much as 145pc, obviously overstepping the failure that proved to be Windows 8.

While it is obviously good news for Microsoft that its latest operating system is doing rather well, you have to bear in mind that it was offered to Windows 7 and Windows 8 users as a free download.

Game developers looking to get the first rung on the ladder might also want to note the news that Microsoft will be turning the regular Xbox One into a development kit, with previews available from today.

Once a dev kit is downloaded onto the Xbox One, the console can then be switched to ‘dev mode’ and then you can begin creating your own games for the console platform.

Microsoft sign image via anandirc/Flickr

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic