Tuesday December 11, 2018
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Microsoft Also Has an AI Bot That Makes Phone Calls to Humans

Xiaoice interacts in text conversations but now the company has started allowing the chat bot to call people on their phones

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Microsoft's beta Android launcher has digital health feature. Pixabay
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While Google Duplex, which lets AI mimic a human voice to make appointments and book tables through phone calls, has mesmerised people with its capabilities and attracted flak on ethical grounds at the same time, Microsoft has showcased a similar technology it has been testing in China.

At an AI event in London on Tuesday, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella revealed that the company’s Xiaoice social chat bot has 500 million “friends” and more than 16 channels for Chinese users to interact with it through WeChat and other popular messaging services.

“Microsoft has turned Xiaoice, which is Chinese for ‘little Bing’, into a friendly bot that has convinced some of its users that the bot is a friend or a human being. Xiaoice has her own TV show, it writes poetry and it does many interesting things,” The Verge quoted Nadella as saying.

Xiaoice interacts in text conversations but now the company has started allowing the chat bot to call people on their phones.

The bot does not work exactly like Google Duplex, which uses the Assistant to make calls on a user’s behalf but it holds a phone conversation with the user.

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Microsoft. (Wikimedia commons)

“One of the things we started doing earlier this year is having full duplex conversations. So now Xiaoice can be conversing with you in WeChat and stop and call you. Then you can just talk to it using voice,” Nadella was quoted as saying.

Humans will be humans and the latest victim of humankind was Microsoft.

Two years ago, Microsoft launched an artificial intelligence (AI)-powered bot on Twitter, named Tay, for a playful chat with people, only to silence it within 24 hours as users started sharing racist and offensive comments with the bot.

Also Read: Microsoft Introduces ‘Surface Hub 2’ for Modern Workplaces

Launched as an experiment in “conversational understanding” and to engage people through “casual and playful conversation”, Tay was soon bombarded with racial comments and the innocent bot repeated those comments back with her commentary to users.

Some of the tweets had Tay referring to Hitler, denying the Holocaust, and supporting Donald Trump’s immigration plans, among others.

Later, a Microsoft spokesperson confirmed to TechCrunch that the company is taking Tay off Twitter as people were posting abusive comments to her. (IANS)

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Microsoft Wants Regulation For Facial Recognition Technology To Start in 2019

Microsoft is one of several companies playing a leading role in developing facial recognition technology

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A sign for Microsoft is seen on a building in Cambridge. VOA

Given the potential for abuse of the fast advancing facial recognition technology, governments across the world need to start adopting laws to regulate this technology in 2019, Microsoft President Brad Smith has said.

“Unless we act, we risk waking up five years from now to find that facial recognition services have spread in ways that exacerbate societal issues,” warned Smith in a blog post on Thursday.

“The time for action has arrived,” he said, adding that the industry must also exercise restraint while using this technology.

Speaking of the benefits of the technology, the Microsoft President mentioned that police in New Delhi recently trialled facial recognition technology and identified almost 3,000 missing children in four days.

Similarly, historians in the US have used the technology to identify the portraits of unknown soldiers in Civil War photographs taken in the 1860s.

Researchers successfully used facial recognition software to diagnose a rare, genetic disease in Africans, Asians and Latin Americans.

And in October, the National Australia Bank designed a proof of concept to enable customers to withdraw money from an Automatic Teller Machine using facial recognition and a PIN.

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Regulation for facial recognition technology must start in 2019: Microsoft. Pixabay

But at the same time, the potential for abuse of this technology is huge, Smith said, adding that certain uses of this technology could lead to biased decisions and discrimination.

Moreover, the widespread use of this technology can lead to new intrusions into people’s privacy, he said.

“The use of facial recognition technology by a government for mass surveillance can encroach on democratic freedoms,” Smith added.

Also Read- Fujifilm Launches its Medium Format Mirrorless Camera in India

“While we believe that new laws and regulations are indispensable, we also recognise that they are not a substitute for the responsibility that needs to be exercised by tech companies,” he said.

Microsoft is one of several companies playing a leading role in developing facial recognition technology.

The company, Smith said, would start adopting new principles to manage the issues surrounding facial recognition technology in the first quarter of 2019. (IANS)