Microsoft is working on a new digital assistant

Microsoft is working on a new digital assistant
Credit: Reuters / Rick Wilking

A job posting revealed plans for a new personal assistant, but its role relative to Cortana is unclear

Once again a job posting has tipped the hand of a company's product plans. This time it was Microsoft who gave away its intentions. The company appears to be working on an assistant bot that looks an awful lot like Google's new Assistant bot.

All due credit goes to Mary Jo Foley at ZDNet for catching it first. The project is called the "Bing Concierge Bot." Unlike Cortana, it makes heavy use of messaging apps, both Microsoft and third-party apps. That's the emphasis from the job posting, which has been removed since Foley discovered it:

"In Bing Concierge Bot Our team we are building a highly intelligent productivity agent that communicates with the user over a conversation platform, such as Skype, Messenger, SMS, WhatsApp, Telegram, etc. The agent does what a human assistant would do: it runs errands on behalf of the user, by automatically completing tasks for the user. The users talk to the agent in natural language, and the agent responds in natural language to collect all the information; once ready, it automatically performs the task for the user by connecting to service providers. For example, the user might ask 'make me a reservation at an Italian place tonight', and the agent will respond with 'for how many people?'; after several such back-and-forth turns it will confirm and book the restaurant that the user picked."

This sounds like it's built on the bot technology recently released. Earlier this year, Microsoft released Tay, a learning AI chat bot that used Twitter, Kik and GroupMe, along with SnapChat, Facebook and other traditional social media sites. However, Microsoft had to quickly pull the plug because its learning AI bot was being taught all kinds of racist and obnoxious comments from Internet jokers.

But Microsoft isn't giving up on the Bot Framework. It showed off a bunch of single-purpose bots at the Build conference. And the company has started populating its Bot Directory with a number of company-developed bots, such as the Bing Image Bot, Caption Bot, Summarize bot and Bing Music Bot.

It sounds like the Bot Framework gives this Concierge bot more power than Cortana. If Microsoft is just in the hiring phase, it's not likely to see the light of day for a while. So, it remains to be seen how it will fit in alongside Cortana.

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