Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella says that chatbots, like the basic messaging bots we’re starting to see emerge on Facebook Messenger, will “fundamentally revolutionize how computing is experienced by everybody.”
Nadella elaborated that “pretty much everyone today who’s building applications, whether they be desktop apps, or mobile apps, or websites, will build bots as the new interface,” addressing the assembled crowd of Microsoft software developers, customers, and partners at its annual World Partner Conference in Toronto.
Naturally, Microsoft has a horse in this race: The company has made a big bet on what it calls “conversation as a platform,” providing those software developers with the tools and technology they need to start building chatbots, plus its own Cortana digital assistant. As chatbots start to infiltrate computing, Microsoft stands poised to take full advantage.
Right now, Nadella says, the real value of bots is that you can ask a simple question in plain speech, and they can go out and gather data from disparate sources and return it to you in a way that’s easy to digest. Plus, they work across smartphones, PCs, tablets, and even new-wave voice gadgets like the Amazon Echo or Google Home.
In an on-stage demo, Nadella showed off using Microsoft’s own Cortana virtual assistant for some handy workplace tasks, including returning information on sales leads, and their probability to convert into paying customers, using the same tech that Microsoft used to predict the NBA Finals and the Oscars.
At first, Nadella says, these bots won’t replace existing apps so much as they’ll augment them – meaning there’s a big opportunity for the developers of today who start to think about how chatbots can enhance their existing apps and software. Nadella urges developers to start connecting their apps to Cortana.
“These conversational interfaces will be born on the devices you use today, as an additional entry point, as an additional experience,” Nadella says.
But over time, Nadella says, more and more everyday tasks will be handled by bots.
Chatbots aren’t limited by a single operating system, since they can work across apps like Skype, Facebook Messenger, Line, and basically any other messaging service. And when faced with the need to use data from a variety of apps and sources, people will have an easier time using “a human dialogue interface, versus the menus of the past,” Nadella says.