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SAN FRANCISCO — Microsoft’s vision for the future is full of personal assistants and bots typing, talking, and predicting your needs all day long.
“We want to build intelligence that augments human abilities and experiences. Ultimately, it’s not going to be about man versus machines. It is going to be about man with machines,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said at the Microsoft Build developer conference in San Francisco on Wednesday.
A Personal Assistant That Predicts Your Needs
In the conference’s opening keynote, Nadella announced improvements to Microsoft Cortana, calling it “the unbounded personal assistant.” Cortana is already answering one million voice questions per day, according to the company, and will be integrated into Outlook email and Calendar in the coming months.
With a user’s permission, Cortana will be able to read email and make proactive suggestions like finding a reservation for dinner or rescheduling a meeting, just by scanning the conversations in your inbox.
And the personal assistant will be integrated into Xbox One and Skype. If you’ve just been invited by video message to a conference in Dublin, for example, Cortana will send you suggestions for hotel reservations there based on your previous bookings, and even book the room right within the Skype application.
Nadella: 'Bots Are the New Apps'
In this future where Microsoft says it will “infuse intelligence into everything," Nadella declared: “Bots are the new apps.” He said that bots — basically automated tools that make programs more interactive — will be integrated with Skype, HoloLens, and Office 365.
The update to Microsoft’s Windows 10 — the so-called “Anniversary Update” — is scheduled to arrive this summer. It will be free to the 270 million users who have already downloaded Windows 10, according to Microsoft’s Terry Myerson.
Developers will be able to build and connect bots using Microsoft’s new open platform bot framework, creating custom bots in Skype video, for example. This is in line with Nadella’s strategy to open up development across platforms and on mobile devices. Microsoft demonstrated how its aggressive chat bots will recognize natural language to complete actions, like ordering a pizza with the “Domino’s Pizza Bot.”
Companies Must Build Tech for the 'Best of Humanity'
Nadella admitted “all technology that we build has to be more inclusive and respectful …. We need to build technology such that it gets the best of humanity, not the worst,” an acknowledgement of the artificial intelligence disaster just last week when a Microsoft Twitter bot was corrupted by the Internet, went on a racist rant and had to be taken offline.
While talking about the role of technology in our lives, the Microsoft CEO made a sideways reference to the fight between Apple and the FBI, saying, “We have to make choices about how we build technology."
“Think about the way we use technology, and how that helps us make progress as a society.”
Apple Has a Pencil, Microsoft Has Ink
Wednesday’s announcements also included a throwback to ink, pen, and paper. Microsoft’s Bryan Roper took the stage — in a fedora, no less — to demonstrate the new “Ink Workspace,” which will allow drawing and note-taking with new pen support across its operating system. Roper called it “putting the pen front and center,” before showing off how drawing dots on a map can prompt the computer to calculate the distance between the two locations.
Microsoft Aims to 'Build the Future'
Microsoft also announced that the much-anticipated HoloLens will ship today to developers and enterprise partners who pre-ordered the $3,000 holographic computer. Already the device is being used by students and scientists alike: Case Western Reserve University uses HoloLens in teaching medicine by visualizing lifelike models of the human body, and NASA scientists use it for what feels like an in-person walk on Mars.
Nadella used the final moments of his keynote to drive home what he sees as the future of tech by bringing Microsoft engineer Saqib Shaikh, who is visually impaired, to the stage. Shaikh uses a virtual assistant on his smartglasses to understand visual cues that he otherwise would be unable to see. In a moving video, Shaikh used the visual assistant to recognize a man on the street in front of him jumping on a skateboard, and “read” a menu in a restaurant.
“Years ago, this was science fiction,” said Nadella. “Not only do we get to dream of the future, we get to build the future."