Sep
24
2018
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Microsoft hopes enterprises will want to use Cortana

In a world dominated by Alexa and the Google Assistant, Cortana suffers the fate of a perfectly good alternative that nobody uses and everybody forgets about. But Microsoft wouldn’t be Microsoft if it just gave up on its investment in this space, so it’s now launching the Cortana Skills Kit for Enterprise to see if that’s a niche where Cortana can succeed.

This new kit is an end-to-end solution for enterprises that want to build their own skills and agents. Of course, they could have done this before using the existing developer tools. This kit isn’t all that different from those, after all. Microsoft notes that it is designed for deployment inside an organization and represents a new platform for them to build these experiences.

The Skills Kit platform is based on the Microsoft Bot Framework and the Azure Cognitive Services Language Understanding feature.

Overall, this is probably not a bad bet on Microsoft’s part. I can see how some enterprises would want to build their own skills for their employees and customers to access internal data, for example, or to complete routine tasks.

For now, this tool is only available in private preview. No word on when we can expect a wider launch.

more Microsoft Ignite 2018 coverage

Mar
12
2018
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Microsoft Teams will integrate with Cortana, add transcription and translation features

 Microsoft Teams, the company’s team collaboration software and challenger to Slack, announced this morning — on its first anniversary — a suite of new features that will roll out to the software throughout 2018. This includes features that will allow users to record, transcribe and save meetings to the cloud, integrations with voice assistant Cortana, inline message… Read More

Mar
12
2018
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Microsoft Teams will integrate with Cortana, add transcription and translation features

Microsoft Teams, the company’s team collaboration software and challenger to Slack, announced this morning — on its first anniversary — a suite of new features that will roll out to the software throughout 2018. This includes features that will allow users to record, transcribe and save meetings to the cloud, integrations with voice assistant Cortana, inline message translation and several others.

The added integration with Cortana’s voice assistance could give Microsoft an edge in its battle with Slack, given the increasing importance of voice-based computing in the workplace and within business productivity applications.

Microsoft and Amazon announced last year their voice assistants, Cortana and Alexa, would work together, for example. Meanwhile, companies — including Microsoft — have been working to make their applications and services work well with voice assistants given the potential of voice computing in the workplace.

According to Microsoft, Cortana voice integrations for Teams-enabled devices will launch later this year, allowing users to easily make a call, join a meeting or add people to meetings using natural, spoken language. What’s more, these voice capabilities will extend to IP phones and conference room devices, as well.

This feature alone could be a big selling point for Microsoft Teams, but it’s one of several the company announced are in the works.

Also coming in 2018 is cloud recording — another that takes advantages of advances in voice technology in recent years. Microsoft Teams will be able to record meetings with a click, then create an automatic transcription of what was said. Meeting attendees can choose to play back the meeting in full, or just a key part, using the transcription as reference.

This feature will also be advanced in the future to include facial recognition, so meeting remarks can be properly attributed.

Meeting transcription is an area other startups are working in, as well. For example, recently launched Otter is offering an automatic transcription tool for meetings, as is Voicera, which just landed $20 million for its automated note-taking assistant. (It wouldn’t be surprising to see Slack snatch up a company like this in the future, to help it compete by way of native voice and transcription features.)

Microsoft is also promising inline messaging translations between languages in channels and chat; a background blur option for video calls (great for meetings from home offices); proximity detection for adding available Skype Room Systems to meetings; and mobile sharing in meetings.

This last item will allow attendees to share a live video stream, photo or screen share from their mobile device.

In addition to the planned features, Microsoft announced new enterprise-grade calling features arriving today, including consultative transfer and call delegation and federation. It’s also now rolling out Direct Routing, which allows customers to integrate existing telephony infrastructure with Teams for calling.

Related to this, Teams is also now enabled across meeting room devices, including Microsoft Surface Hub; devices from new partners Lenovo and HP (which join Logitech, Crestron and Polycom); Skype Room Systems; new solutions from BlueJeans, Pexip and Polycom that will connect with Teams; new desk phones from AudioCodes and Yealink and new conference room phones from Crestron, Polycom and Yealink, all of which will run a native Teams app; and new mobile phone stations from Plantronics.

Microsoft today gave an update on Teams’ traction, given it’s now been a year since its worldwide debut. There are today 200,000 organizations in 181 markets and 39 languages on Teams, including A.P. Moller-Maersk, ConocoPhillips, Macy’s, NASCAR, Navistar, RLH Corporation and Technicolor and, as of another announcement today, General Motors.

By comparison, Slack reports 9 million weekly active users across 50,000+ paying companies in over 100 countries, according to stats on its website. It said in September it had grown to more than 6 million daily users, as well.

Jun
14
2017
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Facebook teaches machines to negotiate with humans

 Though Facebook is rarely mentioned alongside Apple, Microsoft and Amazon in discussions about conversational AI, the company has published a hoard of papers that underscore a deep interest in dialog systems. As has become clear with Siri, Cortana and Alexa, dialog is hard — it requires more than just good speech recognition to deliver a killer experience to users. From the sidelines… Read More

May
10
2017
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Microsoft Maluuba is teaching machines to ask questions

 Microsoft Maluuba, the research team of PhDs that Microsoft acquired back in January, has been hard at work exploring the nexus of machine learning and question generation with the aim of delivering an intelligent personal assistant that surpasses the limited capabilities of today’s market leaders. Read More

Jul
07
2016
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Microsoft now helps businesses use the data that powers Bing Predicts

2016-07-07_0936   A few years ago, Microsoft launched Bing Predicts, a project that aims to correctly predict sporting events and elections by combining lots of data with machine learning algorithms. Until now, though, there wasn’t really a product that made Bing Predicts available to users. Today, however, the company launched its Cortana Intelligence with Bing Predicts service. Sadly, this… Read More

Jul
06
2016
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Microsoft gives Salesforce a shove with new Dynamics 365 integrated cloud platform

Boys in kitchen throwing flour at each other. Microsoft announced its intention today to combine the Dynamics CRM and ERP products into an integrated platform on top of which it is hoping third parties will build applications. It’s a complex announcement with many pieces, but Dynamics 365 shares more than its name with Office 365, it also has deep connections with the cloud office suite, as well as to Cortana voice intelligence… Read More

Apr
22
2016
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Windows Ink, Cortana improvements and more arrive in the latest Windows 10 build out now

ink3-1024x683 It’s going to be a good Friday for those testing the latest releases of the Windows 10 operating system, as Microsoft is today rolling out a new build of its PC and mobile OS, which will allow users to try the newly announced Windows Ink experience for the first time. Windows Ink, announced at the Build 2016 event last month, offers improved pen support for Windows 10 PCs, including… Read More

Dec
01
2015
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Microsoft Integrates Cortana Into Its Power BI Business Intelligence Service

Power-BI-Cortana-Integration2 When Microsoft has a technology it likes, it loves to bring it to all of its platforms and services. Right now, its Cortana personal assistant is clearly one of these technologies. Microsoft today announced that Cortana is coming to more desktops in the enterprise. The company is integrating the service into Power BI, its business intelligence tool that, it’s worth noting, already had… Read More

Nov
10
2014
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Microsoft Sees An Intelligent, Mobile-Focused Future Of Productivity

Satya Nadella At a recent event on its Redmond campus, Microsoft executives explained their views on the future of productivity to a small press cadre. The company’s CEO, Satya Nadella, opened the day’s happenings with an explanation of the company’s core focuses, listing platform work, and productivity itself as two of its chief efforts. The executive indicated that productivity… Read More

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