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Build 2016: Microsoft Sees Conversation As The New UI, Bots As Apps

Microsoft used its Build 2016 developers conference as a platform to announce a free summertime update for Windows 10, expanded Cortana capabilities, and plans for natural-language voice control of shopping bots through Skype.

On the first day of the conference today, the company also announced plans to integrate Skype with its planned HoloLens headset.

Much of the company’s focus during Build’s first-day keynote was on “taking the human language and applying it more pervasively to all of our computing,” said CEO Satya Nadella during a keynote address. “Human language is the new UI,” he said, and voice-controlled “bots are the new apps.” The bots will replace the need to type data into fields on a web browser or an app.

Artificial intelligence: Microsoft’s vision is to infuse artificial intelligence in all computing devices, enabling the devices to learn conversational language, understand context and understand personal preferences, Nadella said. Devices will therefore be able to help people with everyday tasks, he told a hall full of developers.

With these advances, technology will be able to “augment human experiences” and enable more people to use technology, he continued.

Some of the planned Windows 10 enhancements will move the company toward its “conversation-as-platform” vision. The summertime update, for example, will enable Cortana to respond to more voice requests, such as “send Chuck the PowerPoint that I worked on last night,” said program manager Marcus Ash. The update will also bring Cortana to Xbox One.

Consumers will also be able to plan trips, reserve hotel rooms and shop via Skype, either by voice or by typing a request, said Lilian Rincon, Skype program manager.

The company is making voice-bot APIs available today to developers.

Windows 10 updates: Multiple enhancements coming with the summertime Windows 10 update include extending fingerprint authentication to apps and to the Edge browser. Edge will be the first and only browser to support fingerprint authentication for use with supporting websites, the company said.

The Windows 10 Ink function will also get major enhancements, enabling the Microsoft pen to write smart sticky notes that automatically recognize days and places jotted down on the screen. A note that says “call mom tomorrow” will move automatically into a user’s reminder app. On a map or on picture of a birds-eye picture of an area, consumers will be able to draw a line from one location to another and get directions. On a 3D topographical map, users will be able to draw lines from one place to another to determine distance, jot down notes, and mark locations for hiking breaks. As the user changes the angle of view, the lines and words will remain in place.

Users will also be able to highlight passages in Microsoft Word documents and cross out words and text, after which the remaining text will automatically reflow.

Ink will also let people use a virtual ruler to draw straight lines on pictures, charts or Excel documents, and a virtual French curve will help artists draw smooth curved lines.

In other plans, Microsoft said Skype will be able to automatically generate a transcript of a message left with video mail. The company will also bring Skype to its planned HoloLens augmented-reality goggles. A developers’ version of HoloLens was made available today for developers to create apps, bringing the device a step closer to the consumer market.