SAN FRANCISCO — If you’ve got something that needs to be done, Microsoft wants you to know there’s a bot for that.
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Nine years after Apple popularized the concept of apps that empower us to check bank balances and get driving directions on our smartphones, Microsoft unveiled a new framework for creating the next generation of apps at Build, its annual developer event underway here this week.
Bots and more: Microsoft shows future of computing at build 2016.
Bots, or chatbots, are more than apps, which give us the tools to get things done. Bots are agents with enough training, communications ability and contextual insight to go out and take care of things we tell them to do, like:.
— Select a place to meet for lunch, and invite the people you want to attend,.
— Books flights and a hotel room for an upcoming business trip,.
— Edit, post and tag pictures on Facebook.
There’s a lot that goes into building a bot that’s even just a little bit useful. Take a pizza chatbot, for example. It has to be prepared to understand different speech patterns, accents and slang. It has to figure out that “deliver a large pie with pepperoni and cheese” means the same thing as “bring a big pepperoni pizza with extra cheese to the crib.”.
And it gets more complicated when you ask the bot to think outside the pizza box. Telling it to “get pepperoni pizza to my lunch meeting tomorrow,” for example, would require access to my calendar.
The Microsoft Bot Framework, as it’s called, is part of a broader next-generation programming platform designed to break down the walls between apps, and between devices. That way, the pizza bot can find out where the meeting is, and who’s going, and direct the right number of pizzas to the right place.
“I am an optimist,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella told developers Monday at the event. He must be. Because he knows that with the potential, come pitfalls. Microsoft experienced that this week, in fact, when it was forced to pull Tay, the bot it built to chat on Twitter, after some embarrassing comments it made.
Microsoft CEO Nadella: ‘Bots are the new apps’.
Indeed, most of us are all too familiar with both the fascination and frustration of new technology. The industry will no doubt feel more growing pains as new bots appear and offer to do things for us.
But you know what? I’m an optimist too. And I can’t wait to see what the bots have in store for us.
Follow USA TODAY technology columnist Mike Feibus on Twitter: @mikefeibus.