Microsoft’s AI bot can make phone calls and chat with humans

Microsoft’s AI bot can make phone calls and chat with humans

Microsoft reveals ‘Xiaoice’ AI bot that can place phone calls like Google’s Duplex

Following in the footsteps of Google is another Silicon Valley tech giant Microsoft, who recently showcased an AI (artificial intelligence) chatbot that is capable of making real phone calls to humans.

For those unaware, earlier this month at the Google I/O 2018 demo, the search giant had displayed a similar product called Google’s Duplex, where the AI bot can make a phone call and talk to a real human being in order to complete tasks on behalf of the users, such as dinner reservations and scheduling hair appointments. In other words, the AI pretends to be human and make phone calls.

However, in case of Microsoft, it allows the bot to call people and have ‘full-duplex’ conversations (a conversation where both users can speak and understand each other at the same time, similar to a telephone call).

Called as Xiaoice (pronounced SHAO-ICE and the Chinese translation for ‘little Bing’), Microsoft has been developing the AI-based social chatbot for many months on WeChat and many other popular messaging platforms. However, the Silicon Valley giant revealed a demonstration of the chatbot’s ‘full duplex voice sense’ only at an AI event in London on Tuesday, according to The Verge who were the first to report it.

Speaking at the event, Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella said that the AI bot already has more than 500 million “connection or friends”. Xiaoice has more than 16 channels for Chinese users who want to interact with it through WeChat and other messaging services.

Microsoft has termed Xiaoice as a friendly bot, where the conversation with this AI-powered chatbot aims to give that natural experience a person might have when talking on the phone to a friend. The AI chatbot is touted to have completed over a million phone calls already.

“Xiaoice has her own TV show, it writes poetry, and it does many interesting things,” added Nadella. “It’s a bit of a celebrity.”

Although most of the test conversations with Xiaoice have been text-based till date, Microsoft is now allowing the bot to also make phone calls and have conversations.

Check out the video below to see Xiaoice in action:

Although the concept for Google Duplex and Microsoft Xiaoice may be on the same line, but the basic difference between them is that the Google Duplex uses the Assistant to make calls on your behalf, while Xiaoice holds a phone conversation with you. Also, Xiaoice can predict what the person is most likely to say and respond accordingly. Just like a normal human, Xiaoice can even interrupt the user mid-sentence during conversations.

Currently, Microsoft’s Xiaoice remains exclusive to China and speaks only Chinese. Microsoft has not revealed if and when it plans to test the AI chatbot in other parts of the world.

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Microsoft is coming up with low cost iPad alternative

Microsoft is working on low-cost Surface tablet to rival Apple's iPad

Microsoft plans to take on Apple’s iPad by launching low-cost Surface tablet

Microsoft is planning to compete head-to-head with Apple’s cheaper iPad model by debuting its new line of low-cost Surface tablets as early as the second half of 2018, reports Bloomberg citing people familiar with the company’s plans.

According to the source, Microsoft’s low-cost tablets will feature 10-inch displays, which is almost the same size as the standard iPad but is comparatively smaller than the 12-inch Surface Pro. It is said to have round edges like Apple’s iPad, as opposed to the squared off corners of the current generation Surface models.

The company is planning multiple models, including versions with 64GB and 128GB of storage and LTE cellular networks. Both the models will run Windows 10 Pro and come with USB Type-C connectivity for charging and syncing. Intel Corp. is scheduled to provide the main processor and graphics for these devices.

The devices will be 20 percent lighter than the current Surface models, which will make it easier for children to use. It will have up to nine hours of battery life, as opposed to the Surface Pro that lasts for 13.5 hours on a single charge, reports Bloomberg. The devices will also have the kickstand for upright typing and watching video.

The cheapest versions of the new device is expected to be priced around $400 that would be sold without a keyboard cover or stylus. However, there are news that Microsoft has plans to launch less expensive versions of its keyboard cover, stylus and mouse, which will be sold separately.

Microsoft declined to comment on the rumors of a cheaper Surface model, Bloomberg reported.

This is not the first time that Microsoft has taken a plunge in the low-end PC/tablet market. In the past, the tech giant had tried to enter the low-cost market with the Surface RT in 2012 and the Surface 3 in 2015, both priced at $499, but fared poorly in comparison to the growing Surface Pro line. Microsoft had to go ahead and discontinue the Surface RT in 2017.

Now, with the launch of this new low-cost $400 Surface tablet, will Microsoft be able to take on Apple’s latest entry-level $329 iPad and attract people to its Surface products, only time will tell!!! Currently, Microsoft’s least expensive Surface Pro device starts at $799.

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Microsoft offers 95 Percent Revenue Share to Windows App developers

Windows Store

Microsoft is all set to entice more developers (non-game) by dangling higher revenue split in front of them.

At Build 2018 conference, Microsoft announced a new developer partnership stake, according to which all the non-game developers would be getting the 95% of the revenue earned from application sales. This step is possibly taken to attract more developers to work for Windows app.

What’s the drill?

The devs would be eligible for this share of 95% revenue only when the app purchased from a deep-link, i.e. from the developer’s website. However, by means, if the app has been purchased through marketing or from any other Microsoft services, such as Store app collection, developer’s share would be reduced to 85% of the revenue.

Since this new revenue technique is applicable only for the non-gaming apps, platforms like Xbox will follow the previous revenue plan, i.e., 30:70 in the favor of devs. All the other platforms such as Windows 10, Windows 8.x and/or Windows Phone 8.x, Windows Mixed Reality, Windows Phone and Surface Hub are included under this new revenue policy.

This change would aid Microsoft to compete with its rivalries with Google and Apple, as they both offer a similar share to the developers. Google follows an 85:15 policy, applicable only if the users continue for a minimum of 12 months or 1 year, or else 70:30. Likewise, Apple gives the developers 70:30 for the first 12 months and 85:15 thereafter. Now with this increase of 95% Microsoft seems to take a winning leap in the business!

In end, this new revenue plan is definitely favorable for the developers. In any case, they would be earning at least 15% more, as currently, the basic revenue share is 70% on their self-built apps.

This new revenue share structure will go live later this year!

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Microsoft Releases First Preview of Office 2019

word office 2019

Microsoft Office 2019 Is Now Available As a Preview For Commercial Customers

Microsoft has released its first Office 2019 Preview for business customers. This first preview includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, Publisher, Access, Project, Visio and OneNote for Windows 10. It also includes server versions of Exchange, SharePoint, and Skype for Business.

The productivity suite of Windows Office 2019 Preview is for businesses that aren’t running Office 365 subscription and will run only on Windows 10. A separate Office 2019 for Mac version will also be available for macOS in the coming months.

“This milestone is the first in a series of preview announcements for the Office 2019 wave, and in the coming months, we’ll release previews of Office 2019 for Mac, Exchange 2019, SharePoint 2019, Project Server 2019, and Skype for Business 2019.  Office 365 ProPlus delivers the most productive and most secure Office experience — with the lowest TCO for deployment and management.  But for customers who aren’t yet ready to move to the cloud, Office 2019 provides an update to the perpetual apps with new features for both end users and IT,” explained Jared Spataro, General Manager for Office in a blog post on Friday.

“Office 2019 delivers new features to help end users create amazing content in less time. Updates include new and improved inking features across the apps, like the roaming pencil case, pressure sensitivity, and tilt effects; more powerful data analysis in Excel, like new formulas, new charts, and Power BI integration; and sophisticated presentation features in PowerPoint, like Morph and Zoom.”

These features in Office 2019 are already available for users on the subscription-based Office 365, notes Spataro.

“Office 365 delivers continuous cloud-powered innovation for increased productivity, better security, and the lowest [total cost of ownership]. But we recognize that for many customers, moving to the cloud is a journey with many considerations along the way. Office 2019 will be a valuable upgrade for customers who feel that they need to keep some or all of their apps and servers on premises.”

The Office 2019 Commercial Preview is not available for everyone. Microsoft explains that “this preview program is intended only for organizations that plan to deploy the perpetual (volume licensed) version of Office 2019 when it’s released later this year.”

Office 2019 will be released in the second half of 2018. Organizations that are interested in joining the Office 2019 Commercial Preview Program, can visit this page for more information.

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Microsoft built its own Linux Kernel for IoT devices

microsoft love linux

Microsoft introduces Azure Sphere to secure IoT devices with chips and Linux

Microsoft yesterday announced a Linux-based operating system called Azure Sphere, an ARM-based platform for the Internet of Things (IoT) with a focus on security, at the RSA 2018 security conference. The main purpose of creating Azure Sphere is to secure millions of microcontroller-based devices that come online as part of the IoT.

Azure Sphere mainly contains three components that work together to protect and power devices at the intelligent edge: certified microcontrollers (MCUs), the Azure Sphere Security Service – a cloud-based security service – for connecting and security IoT devices, and Azure Sphere OS – a custom Linux-based operating system, which marks the first time Microsoft has basically launched its own Linux distribution.

Microsoft says the goal is to be able to offer “security protection for a 10-year lifetime of the device.”

The announcement was made on Microsoft’s Azure blog that can be read here and a description of each new component is given below:

  • Azure Sphere certified microcontrollers (MCUs): A new cross-over class of MCUs that combines both real-time and application processors with built-in Microsoft security technology and connectivity. Each chip includes custom silicon security technology from Microsoft, inspired by 15 years of experience and learnings from Xbox, to secure this new class of MCUs and the devices they power.
  • Azure Sphere OS: This OS is purpose-built to offer unequalled security and agility. Unlike the RTOSes common to MCUs today, our defense-in-depth IoT OS offers multiple layers of security. It combines security innovations pioneered in Windows, a security monitor, and a custom Linux kernel to create a highly-secured software environment and a trustworthy platform for new IoT experiences.
  • Azure Sphere Security Service: A turnkey, cloud service that guards every Azure Sphere device; brokering trust for device-to-device and device-to-cloud communication through certificate-based authentication, detecting emerging security threats across the entire Azure Sphere ecosystem through online failure reporting, and renewing security through software updates. It brings the rigor and scale Microsoft has built over decades protecting our own devices and data in the cloud to MCU powered devices.

Azure Sphere Security Service will be compatible not only with Azure, but also with other cloud infrastructure providers such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google Cloud, IBM, Oracle, and others, says Microsoft chief financial officer Brad Smith.

“There are going to be 9 billion of these MCU-based devices shipped this year,” he said.

“They’ll be in the toys of our children, in our kitchens, our refrigerators, in every room in our house…that infrastructure will only be as secure as the weakest link.

“We’re a Windows company, but what we recognized is that the best solution for a computer of this size in a toy is not a full-blown version of Windows. It’s a custom Linux Kernel,” Smith said. “It’s an important step for us and the industry.”

Currently, Azure Sphere is in private preview and the first batch of Azure Sphere-powered devices is expected to be “on shelves” by the end of calendar 2018, Microsoft official said. The dev kits will arrive in the middle of the calendar year.

Microsoft has also created a video to showcase the new microcontrollers and the security they offer:

To learn more about Azure Sphere, you can visit the Azure Sphere website.

Source: PCMag

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Microsoft Open Sources the Original File Manager of the 90’s

microsoft open source

Microsoft open sources Windows 3.0 File Manager code in GitHub

It’s time for folks from the 1990s to get nostalgic, as Microsoft has open sourced the Windows 3.0 File Manager released 28 years ago. This file manager was a replacement for managing files through MS-DOS, which allowed Windows users to copy, move, delete, and search for files.

Veteran Microsoft developer Craig Wittenberg, who had copied the code in 2007 from Windows NT 4, has been maintaining it privately under the MIT license before open sourcing it recently. The source code Microsoft has released can be compiled and even run on Windows 10.

Here’s a portion of the project’s file:

The Windows File Manager lives again and runs on all currently supported version of Windows, including Windows 10. I welcome your thoughts, comments and suggestions.

  1. There are two primary versions of the source code in the master branch:

original_plus tag: refers to the source for WinFile as of Windows NT4 with minimal changes so that it compiles with Visual Studio and runs on current Windows.

  1. current master: contains my personal changes / additions to WinFile.

File Manager actually uses an MDI, or multiple-document interface, to display multiple folders within the main application window. “Most of the MSFT open source stuff is either trash or completely unmaintained,” one Hacker News reader noted following the release. “Only a couple of high profile projects are maintained and they jam opt-out telemetry in if you like it or not (despite hundreds of comments requesting them to go away). Even Scott Hanselman getting involved in one of our tickets got it nowhere. Same strong arming and disregard for customers.”

For those who are interested in reliving the 1990s, can just go to the GitHub page here to download the Windows File Manager for Windows 10.

Source: The Verge

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Microsoft Adds AI Course To Its Professional Program

microsoft AI

Microsoft opens up its AI course to the public; seeks to offer up “job-ready” skills in AI and data science

Microsoft on Monday announced that it has added a new online AI (artificial intelligence) course to its list of Professional Program modules, which will provide thousands of people a chance to build skills in the field of AI. This track in AI is now open to the public and comprises online courses.

According to the company, its Professional Program in AI is an extension of Microsoft’s internal AI training initiatives, including what was internally known as the AI School 611. This project-based semester-style program offers a competitively selected group of employees with tools, training and mentoring from leading experts in AI and machine learning to bring new AI capabilities into their product or service.

“We solicit, from all over Microsoft, projects that require AI which can be accelerated by working closely with AI experts to help shape new algorithms and data pipelines,” said Susan Dumais, who leads the program and is a distinguished scientist and Assistant Director of Microsoft Research AI.

The training is part of a larger corporate effort that includes an enterprise developer-focused AI School, which provides online videos and other assets to help developers build AI skills.

The Microsoft Professional Program for AI will consist of 10 courses that cover 10 skills, each of which is supposed to take eight to 16 hours to complete. This course covers technologies like computer vision, natural language processing, Python, speech recognition, data analysis, math, ethics, and Azure machine learning.

“Each course runs for three months and starts at the beginning of a quarter (January-March, April-June, July-September, and October-December). The capstone runs for four weeks at the beginning of each quarter.” the company said in a statement.

“The programme provides job-ready skills and real-world experience to engineers and others who are looking to improve their skills in AI and data science through a series of online courses that feature hands-on labs and expert instructors,” Microsoft added.

Those completing the course will receive a digitally-sharable Microsoft Professional Program Certificate in AI. However, the courses aren’t free and participants need to buy certificates from for each course. Microsoft also allows those interested to sign up and audit them for free, but they won’t get the completion credit if they do this.

According to Dumais, Microsoft’s employee and publicly available AI training opportunities reflect a broader push throughout the technology industry to fill a gap in workers with skills in artificial intelligence.

“AI is increasingly important in how our products and services are designed and delivered and that is true for our customers as well,” Dumais said. “Fundamentally,” she added, “we are all interested in developing talent that is able to build, understand and design systems that have AI as a central component.”

Click here to find out more about the Microsoft Professional Program in AI. You can also enroll to take part on the company’s website.

Source: Microsoft AcademyMicrosoft Blog

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Microsoft’s Tool for Running Linux on Windows 10 is now Open Source

Microsoft releases a new tool to get more custom Linux distributions distros on Windows 10

Microsoft recently confirmed that it has open-sourced a Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL) sample for Windows 10 targeted at Linux distribution to help them bring their distros to the Windows Store to run on Windows 10’s WSL.

Microsoft describes the tool as a “reference implementation for a Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL) distribution installer application.”

This tool will enable Linux distribution maintainers to package and submit a Linux distribution as an appx that runs on WSL. It will also allow developers to create custom Linux distro packages for sideloading onto their dev machine running Windows 10. However, it should be noted that personally created custom packages cannot be distributed through the Microsoft Store unless submitted as a distribution maintainer and approved by Microsoft. For more information, click here.

“We know that many Linux distros rely entirely on open source software, so we would like to bring WSL closer to the OSS community. We hope open sourcing this project will help increase community engagement and bring more of your favorite distros to the Microsoft Store,” said Tara Raj of Microsoft’s WSL team in a blog post.

The WSL allows Windows 10 to run various GNU/Linux distros from the Windows Store, including Canonical, Ubuntu, OpenSUSE, SUSE Linux Enterprise Server, and Fedora. Just last month, Microsoft also added Debian and Kali Linux distros to the Windows Store.

Microsoft has specifically published the Distro Launcher code that’s used with its WSL component of the Windows 10 kernel. The open source code is now available on GitHub as a sample for developers who are interested in building their own Linux distros for the WSL.

Source: Microsoft, ON MSFT

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Microsoft Starts Forcing Windows 10 Mail Users To Use Edge Browser

Microsoft Starts Forcing Windows 10 Mail Users To Use Edge Browser

NOT AGAIN!!! Microsoft is forcing Edge browser on Windows 10 users through the Windows 10 Mail app

In yet another move to make Windows 10 users forcibly opt for Microsoft Edge browser, the Redmond giant is testing a new method that will compel Windows 10 Mail users to use the Edge browser for links clicked on within the email client, regardless of the user’s app defaults. In other words, if you have set Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox as your default browser in Windows 10, Microsoft will ignore that setting and force you into using Microsoft Edge through the Mail app.

The company, which revealed the changes in the announcement of Windows 10 Insider Preview Build 17623 for Skip Ahead, said that “we will begin testing a change where links clicked on within the Windows Mail app will open in Microsoft Edge.” The company is testing the change in the latest test build of Windows 10.

In a note to “Windows Insider” testers, Microsoft argued that Edge “provides the best, most secure and consistent experience on Windows 10 and across your devices”. It further said that “With built-in features for reading, note-taking, Cortana integration, and easy access to services such as SharePoint and OneDrive, Microsoft Edge enables you to be more productive, organized and creative without sacrificing your battery life or security. As always, we look forward to feedback from our WIP community.”

This move by Microsoft has infuriated many users and industry watchers and raised concerns about Microsoft’s conflict of interest in running both a browser and an operating system.

This is not the first time that Microsoft is forcing its choice on Windows 10 users. Cortana users are forced to use Bing search and open results in the Microsoft Edge browser.

Although the feature is currently in “testing phase”, but if it does manage to make through to the Windows 10 Spring Creators Update, due in April, the users then might find it difficult to switch to any other web browser other than Edge. Let’s keep our fingers crossed and hope that it doesn’t make it to a public release.

Do let us know what you think of Microsoft’s pushy practices in the comments section below.

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Microsoft ‘Shows Love’ To Ghanaian Blackboard Computer Teacher

Ghana teacher who used blackboard to explain computers gets standing ovation at Microsoft summit

Richard Akoto Appiah, the Ghanaian ICT teacher at Betenase M/A Junior High School at Sekyedomase in the Ashanti Region, who posted pictures of himself drawing the Microsoft interface on a blackboard because his school in Ghana had no working PCs, received a standing ovation at the Global Education Exchange Summit recently hosted by Microsoft in Singapore.

A few days ago, Akoto, a 33-year-old information and communications technology (ICT) teacher in Ghana, became a social media sensation after he had posted pictures of him drawing a complete Microsoft Word window in multicolored chalk on a blackboard. He did this as he wants his students to learn digital skills even without devices.

Microsoft honored Akoto’s dedication to teach at the Education Exchange (E2) in Singapore by giving him a standing ovation at a gathering of almost 400 educators and school leaders from 91 countries, who were there to discuss the role of technology in education and new methods of teaching that can prepare students for success in the digital age.

Anthony Salcito, Vice President, Worldwide Education at Microsoft, praised Akoto for inspiring the world in his effort to help his students against all obstacles and meet their needs every day.

“Your work has really inspired the world. It really shows the amazing innovation and commitment and passion that teachers have for helping their students get ready for the future,” Anthony said. “At Microsoft, we believe that educators are heroes and are pushing the boundaries of what is possible to transform learning and making a direct impact on the experiences and lifelong skills of their students.”

In order to graduate, students at Betenase M/A Junior High School in Ghana are required to pass a national exam, which includes computer technology. Akoto who has devoted himself to teaching vital digital skills to his students wanted them to compete with the likes of students that do have computer access and not be left behind in life.

Akoto who never traveled out of Ghana before, said in an interview, “They have some knowledge about computers, but they don’t know how to actually operate one.” However, as the school’s only computer and his own personal laptop were both broken, showing his class how to use a PC posed an important problem.

He added, “I wanted to teach them how to launch Microsoft Word. But I had no computer to show them. I had to do my best. So, I decided to draw what the screen looks like on the blackboard with chalk,” he said. “I drew the features and labeled them correctly so that they would know what-was-what. Then I drew what you would see on your computer screen after launching Word.

“I have been doing this every time the lesson I’m teaching demands it. I’ve drawn monitors, system units, keyboards, a mouse, a formatting toolbar, a drawing toolbar, and so on. The students were okay with that. They are used to me doing everything on the board for them. When I did this, it was nothing new or strange for them.

“Something very positive has come out of this and I am very happy. We are no longer going to use the chalkboard again. We will have computers,” noted Akoto.

Seeing Akoto’s extraordinary dedication towards his students, Microsoft has decided to work with him through a local partner in Ghana and provide device and software support needed for his students at his school in Ghana. He will also gain access to the Microsoft Certified Educator Program (MCE) for professional development, so he can develop his passion for teaching and build rich, custom learning experiences for his students.

Microsoft has also pledged new help for Akoto’s school with a spokesperson saying: “Microsoft is committed to providing a full computer lab with initial support and training to the school and is currently in discussions with the Ministry of Education in Ghana on the most effective way to deliver this.”

Besides Microsoft, a benefactor at UK’s University of Leeds recently donated a brand new laptop to Akoto’s school. In addition, Bluecrest College has also donated 5 desktop computers to Betenase M/A Junior High School, and one laptop for Akoto’s personal use.

Source: Microsoft

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