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Announcing the General Availability of Azure Bot Service and Language Understanding, enabling developers to build better conversational bots

Posted on 13 December, 2017

Corporate Vice President, Artificial Intelligence and Research Group

Conversational AI, or making human and computer interactions more natural, has been a goal since technology became ubiquitous in our society. Our mission is to bring conversational AI tools and capabilities to every developer and every organization on the planet, and help businesses augment human ingenuity in unique and differentiated ways.

Today, I’m excited to announce Microsoft Azure Bot Service and Microsoft Cognitive Services Language Understanding (LUIS) are both generally available.

Azure Bot Service enables developers to create conversational interfaces on multiple channels while Language Understanding (LUIS) helps developers create customized natural interactions on any platform for any type of application, including bots. Making these two services generally available on Azure simultaneously extends the capabilities of developers to build custom models that can naturally interpret the intentions of people conversing with bots.

This announcement delivers on our AI Platform approach, providing developers and data scientists with all the tools they need to create AI applications in the cloud and on mobile devices. In November, at Connect(); 2017, we released tools to infuse AI into new and existing applications quickly and easily with updates to Azure Machine Learning (AML) including Azure IoT Edge integration, as well as new Visual Studio Tools for AI. In September, at Microsoft Ignite 2017, we announced tools for the AI-driven Digital Transformation and described how the Microsoft AI platform enables a rich variety of application scenarios.

New capabilities of Azure Bot Service and Language Understanding

With the general availability of Azure Bot Service and Language Understanding, we're also introducing new capabilities to help developers achieve more. Azure Bot Service is now available in more regions and offers premium channels to communicate better with users and provide advanced customization capabilities.

ABS_Templates_Csharp

Azure Bot Service allows you to select various templates from simple form, questions and answers, in either C# or node.js

Language Understanding (LUIS) now has an updated user interface and is available in more regions. It is also expanded up to 500 intents and 100 entities, so developers can create more conversational experiences for their apps. For example, a travel app with LUIS would extract from the sentence “Book me a ticket to Paris” an intent named BookFlight and entity Location as “Paris” to process the order.

LUIS portal

Language Understanding new portal, listing for one intent, the potential sentences created

Language Understanding is part of Microsoft Cognitive Services, a collection of intelligent APIs that enables systems to see, hear, speak, understand and interpret our needs using natural methods of communication. We’ve been making several of these Cognitive Services more customizable, allowing developers to use their own data with algorithms for specific needs. For example, with Custom Speech Service, the research division of an enterprise could create a bot able to understand the specific vernacular of chemical compounds. Or, a fast food restaurant could create an application for taking orders in a noisy drive-through environment.

Feel free to deep dive into the detailed information about the new features of Language Understanding and Azure Bot Service here.

Customer adoption

Today, more than 760,000 developers from 60 countries are using Cognitive Services to add intelligent capabilities to their applications. Additionally, over 240,000 developers have signed up to use the Azure Bot Service which provides developers with everything they need to build and connect intelligent bots. And thousands of customers are already developing intelligent applications with Azure Bot Service and/or LUIS, such as Dixons Carphone, Equadex, Human Interact, Molson Coors, Sabre, UPS, and many more.

Equadex is one customer using Language Understanding for smart applications. Some children with Autism Spectrum Disorder can experience barriers that can make it difficult to communicate and verbalize their thoughts in order to successfully navigate their world. Equadex worked to provide a tool to alleviate communication difficulty with an easy-to-use mobile app that provides a visual representation of language. With the Microsoft Cognitive Services REST APIs and Microsoft Azure tools, Equadex was easily able to incorporate powerful machine learning and artificial intelligence into its Helpicto app. Equadex hopes that Helpicto will eventually help all people with language difficulties communicate more easily.

“We wanted to deliver to the market an innovative technology that could translate natural language into a universal form that someone who is nonverbal could use and understand,” explains Anthony Allebée, Chief Technology Officer at Equadex. “With features like LUIS and the Computer Vision API, Cognitive Services helped us quickly turn our dream of an enhanced communication tool into a reality,” says Allebée.

With a story that starts in 1774, Molson Coors has spent centuries defining brewing greatness. As one of the largest global brewers, Molson Coors works to deliver extraordinary brands that delight the world’s beer drinkers. In order to help its employees better access knowledge in the organization and collaborate across time zones and geographies, Molson Coors is exploring the use of knowledge bots for specific IT and Procurement topics, leveraging Microsoft Cognitive Services QnA Maker, Azure Bot Service, Microsoft Teams, and the Calendar.Help service powered by Cortana.

To improve customer service with intelligent applications as well as increase the efficiency of IT staff, UPS recently improved service levels via a chatbot, the UPS Bot. This sophisticated agent runs on the Microsoft bot technology on Azure. Customers can engage with the UPS Bot in text-based and voice-based conversations to get the information they need about shipments, rates, and UPS locations.

“Within five weeks, we had developed a chatbot prototype with the Microsoft bot technology. Our Chief Information and Engineering Officer loved it and asked that we get a version into production in just two months…and that’s just what we did,” said Kumar Athreya, Senior Applications Development Manager of Shipping Systems, UPS.

Microsoft AI platform

We are making AI approachable and productive for all developers and data scientists with our flexible AI platform, combining the latest advances in technologies like machine learning and deep learning, with our comprehensive data, Azure cloud and productivity platform.

Powered by Azure, our AI platform integrates:

  • High-level services to accelerate the development of AI solutions. This includes conversational AI with Azure Bot Service, trained models such as Cognitive Services (pre-built APIs and custom AI services), allowing developers to use their own data with algorithms trained for their specific needs, and full custom AI services such as Azure Machine Learning.
  • An underlying AI infrastructure with virtually infinite scale
  • Tools to increase productivity for developers and data scientists, bringing AI to every developer and every scenario.

Microsoft AI platform

The Microsoft AI platform, provides a comprehensive cloud powered AI for every developer.

I invite you to visit www.azure.com/ai to learn more about how AI can augment and empower digital transformation efforts. We’ve also launched the AI School to help developers get up to speed with all of these AI technologies.

Dive in and learn how to infuse conversational AI into your applications today.

Lili Cheng
@lilich