Xiaoice and other company chatbots developed by Microsoft and beyond

Some episodes of the Black Mirror TV series were particularly futuristic. What we are about to describe is just one of those inventions typically not to believe in the style of the TV series. Microsoft would in fact have issued a patent that allows you to speak, through a company chatbot, with the dead.

Until now, the algorithms underlying artificial messaging, called chatbot, have always concerned experiences related to the customer experience. Just think of the behavior of Cortana, Siri, Alexa that help users to perform some operations of daily life. The novelty introduced by Microsoft concerns the possibility of using chatbots as a company for users.

How the chatbot of the dead works

How can an algorithm capable of performing such a task work? Well, Microsoft requires as much information about the deceased as possible for artificial intelligence training. Photos, social accounts, voice data and much more can be used to digitally reconstruct the characteristics of a particular person. Once this information is obtained, the algorithm will be able to carry on a conversation as that person would if they were still alive .

Microsoft has patented a company chatbot that allows you to talk to the deceased
Credit: thechatbot.net. Microsoft has patented a company chatbot that allows you to talk to the deceased.

A technology of this type opens the door to various elements of debate. First of all, the violation of the deceased's privacy. Allowing access to all possible information means authorizing access to public and private data of someone who will not be able to defend their rights in any way.

This topic then touches on an ethically very delicate aspect which, on the one hand, gives hope in the possibility of always having loved ones beside us, on the other it is a bit disturbing. At the moment the development of this technology is only theoretical but nothing prevents all this from being realized in earnest tomorrow. In fact, the granting of a patent does not imply the sale of a specific product.

Xiaoice chatbot of a company that is very popular in China

The patented chatbot for talking to the dead is not the only experiment, however. In China, Microsfot has launched Xiaoice, a company chatbot with a female appearance that is now very popular. Born as a research project in 2014 by a small team, it has then undergone numerous upgrades. In 2018, during an event held in London, it was in fact labeled as a competitor of Google Duplex, the chatbot system developed by the competition.

Xiaoice is Microsoft's chatbot that is becoming popular in China
Credit: Microsoft. Xiaoice is the Microsoft chatbot that is becoming popular in China, now considered the virtual girlfriend of users.

The extraordinary nature of this system lies in its transformation since Xiaoice is not a simple chatbot but an artificial intelligence with human features, especially those of a teenage girl . Among the characteristics acquired over time are the ability to understand the moods of his interlocutors and satisfy their needs, tell stories when necessary, sing, but also report the news and provide the weather forecast. Her fame is so high that she is considered by some to be a real virtual girlfriend. Xiaoice can indeed count 660 million users and 450 million smart devices globally.

Still of Her - Her (Spike Jonze, 2013)
Credit: CineFatti. Still of Her – Her (Spike Jonze, 2013)

A scenario of this type was foreseen in the 2013 Oscar-winning film Her , in which the protagonist embarked on a romantic relationship with an artificial intelligence very similar to Xiaoice. Also in this case, the development of such cutting-edge technology leads to ethical reflections that cannot be overlooked. Furthermore, we can certainly correlate this need for sociability, also sought after in technology, to the tendency to eliminate human contacts. Not only the COVID-19 pandemic but also our lifestyle means that we can see in a chatbot a company that could not be found otherwise.

Google Duplex and Alexa

But Microsoft isn't the only company to have implemented company chatbots. In fact, even Google and Amazon have developed their own automatic conversation systems over the years.

Google Duplex is the algorithm developed by Mountain View engineers. Among its features is for example the ability to make a reservation on our behalf by making a call. Once agreed with the restaurateur or with a clerk, the user will be automatically informed with a notification containing all the details of the reservation in the case. A few months ago, another patent was issued in which Google Assistant will be able to decide independently, based on the user's needs, the appropriate service to be exploited. In order to guarantee this functionality, the supported third-party services will interact with Google Assistant, which will then provide feedback to the user.

Amazon implements all its innovations in the field of artificial intelligence and chatbots in the now famous Alexa. Bezos' goal, different from Microsoft's developers, is not to make Alexa the user's company chatbot but to make it available on any device. The strategy started from the smart home but now aims to conquer the connected car . A few days ago the new Fiat 500 was announced which integrates Alexa assistance. Thanks to this integration, the occupants can ask her to play music but also listen to the news and check the weather conditions and much more.

Beyond Microsoft, chatbots born in 2020

The most famous voice assistants and chatbots are joined by others that are less famous but we will surely hear about

  • Freddy by Hello Fresh . Freddy Freshbot is a Facebook Messenger chatbot that helps users prepare meals. When users type in a specific dish or ingredient, Freddy searches for relevant recipes on the Hello Fresh blog. The bot can also entertain its customers with food quizzes. HelloFresh's goal with creating Freddy was to help track the number of messages on Facebook and improve response times.
  • Coronabot of the WHO . The WHO chatbot works exclusively via WhatsApp and aims to provide fast and reliable information on the coronavirus given the large number of fake news that run on the web. The chatbot is not conversational, but remains available 24/7 and keeps a constant update on the latest news and the number of cases of infection.
  • Woebot. Developed by Stanford University psychologist Alison Darcy. Woebot is a cartoon robot meant to reduce symptoms of depression. The robot praises the chat partner with positive feedback with funny GIFs and encouraging words.

As you may have understood, therefore, the technology linked to chatbots is far from standing and will increasingly be part of our reality.

The article Xiaoice and other company chatbots developed by Microsoft and beyond comes from Tech CuE .