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Microsoft wants to take the power of human language and apply it more pervasively to computing interfaces and interactions. At Build, the company's annual developer conference, CEO Satya Nadella described how Microsoft intends to infuse the technology that surrounds us with intelligence and understanding. Microsoft wants developers to embrace its tools and platform (Cortana Analytics Suite) so that we, as end users, can teach computers to better learn human language; to have conversational understanding; and to understand context, such as people, places, things, and preferences. Microsoft says its goal is to augment human abilities and experiences: "man with machine" rather than "man versus machine."

The human language is the new user interface

The corporate knowledge worker has unprecedented computer power at their fingertips, but still has to do most of the thinking, searching, referencing, and remembering when it comes to getting work done. Search engines, corporate portals, and enterprise collaboration platforms offer to lighten the load for the beleaguered employee suffering from information overload, but for every minute saved there seems to be at least two minutes added due to the distractions and interruptions that are a feature of modern working life. This inhibits productivity and the kind of deep thinking and concentration that is required to address challenging business problems.

Consumer-oriented interactive agents, such as Siri, Google Now, Cortana, and Amazon Echo, are starting to prove their value and utility by offering individuals useful assistance as they go about their personal lives, and the IBM Watson project proved that this kind of technology can also be applied to beat humans in linguistic, knowledge-based game shows (Jeopardy).

In his keynote speech to developers, Microsoft's CEO described how conversations will become the next platform for consumers and employees. Powered by rules engines, machine learning, natural language processing systems, and analytics platforms, new bot applications are able to make sense of unstructured and semi-structured information, helping the workforce prioritize and complete the activities that matter most to them and their employers.

Microsoft clearly believes that digital assistants, such as Cortana, working in conjunction with bots have the potential to change the way we interact with computers, especially in the workplace. Microsoft is already applying this technology to the world of "big data" and advanced analytics for business users, enabling conversational-style data query sessions, be it through the spoken or written word, using Power BI.

Microsoft describes three "actors" as part of its conversation-as-a-platform vision: people (you and me), personal digital assistants (the "all-knowing" intelligence that is present and persistent across all of our devices), and bots (which are these new conversational applications). But the fundamental message is this: human language is the new UI, bots are the new apps (digital assistants are "meta apps"), and intelligence and understanding is infused into all interactions.


Further reading

2016 Trends to Watch: Employee Engagement, Productivity, and Collaboration, IT0021-000145 (February 2016)


Richard Edwards, Principal Research Analyst, Enterprise Productivity & Mobility

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