Tag Archives: Azure Bot Service

Extending Chatbots with Azure Cognitive Services

Microsoft Bot Framework is an open source SDK and set of tools for developing chatbots. One of the advantages of building chatbots with the Bot Framework is that you can easily integrate your bot service with the powerful AI algorithms available through Azure Cognitive Services. This is a quick and easy way to give your chatbot super powers when you need them.

Microsoft Cognitive Services is an ever-growing collection of algorithms developed by experts in the fields of computer vision, speech, natural-language processing, decision assistance, and web search. The services simplify a variety of common AI-based tasks, which are then easily consumable through web APIs. The APIs are also constantly being improved and some are even able to teach themselves to be smarter based on the information you feed them.

Here is a quick highlight reel of some of the current Cognitive Services available to chatbot creators:

Language

People have a natural ability to say the same thing in many ways. Intelligent bots need to be just as flexible in understanding what human beings want. The Cognitive Service Language APIs provide language models to determine intent, so your bots can respond with the appropriate action.

The Language Understanding Service (LUIS) easily integrates with Azure Bot Service to provide natural language capabilities for your chatbot. Using LUIS, you can classify a speaker’s intents and perform entity extraction. For instance, if someone tells your bot that they want to buy tickets to Amsterdam, LUIS can help identify that the speaker intends to book a flight and that Amsterdam is a location entity for this utterance.

While LUIS offers prebuilt language models to help with natural language understanding, you can also customize these models for particular language domains that are pertinent to your needs. LUIS also supports active learning, allowing your models to get progressively better as more people communicate with it.

Decision assist services

Cognitive Services has knowledge APIs that extend your bot’s ability to make judgments. Where the language understanding service helps your chatbot determine a speaker’s intention, the decision services help your chatbot figure out the best way to respond. Personalizer, currently in preview, uses machine learning to provide the best results for your users. For instance Personalizer can make recommendations or rank a chatbot’s optional responses to select the best one. Additionally, the Content Moderator service helps identify offensive language, images, and video, filtering profanity and adult content.

Speech recognition and conversion

The Speech APIs in Cognitive Services can give your bot advanced speech skills that leverage industry-leading algorithms for speech-to-text and text-to-speech conversion, as well as Speaker Recognition, a service that lets people use their voice for verification. The Speech APIs use built-in language models that cover a wide range of scenarios with high accuracy.

For applications that require further customization, you can use the Custom Recognition Intelligent Service (CRIS). This allows you to calibrate the language and acoustic models of the speech recognizer by tailoring it to the vocabulary of the application and to the speaking style of your bot’s users. This service allows your chatbot to overcome common challenges to communication such as dialects, slang and even background noise. If you’ve ever wondered how to create a bot that understands the latest lingo, CRIS is the bot enhancement you’ve been looking for.

Web search

The Bing Search APIs add intelligent web search capabilities to your chatbots, effectively putting the internet’s vast knowledge at your bot’s fingertips. Your bot can access billions of:

· webpages

· images

· videos

· news

· local businesses

Image and video understanding

The Vision APIs bring advanced computer vision algorithms for both images and video to your bots. For example, you can use them to recognize objects, people’s faces, age, gender, or even feelings.

The Vision APIs support a variety of image-understanding features. They can categorize the content of images, determining if the setting is at the beach or at a wedding. They can perform optical character recognition on your photo, picking out road signs and other text. The Vision APIs also support several image and video-processing capabilities, such as intelligently generating image or video thumbnails, or stabilizing the output of a video for you.

Summary

While chatbots are already an amazing way to help people interact with complex data in a human-centric way, extending them with web-based AI is a clear opportunity to make them even better assistants for people. Easy to use AI algorithms like the ones in Microsoft Cognitive Services remove language friction and give your chatbots super powers.

Increasing Business Reach with Azure Bot Service Channels

Where do bots live? It’s a common misconception that bots live on your Echo Dot, on Twitter, or on Facebook. To the extent bots call anywhere their home, it’s the cloud. Objects and apps like your iPhone and Skype are the “channels” through which people communicate with your bot.

Azure Bot Service Channels

Out of the box, Azure Bot Service supports the following channels (though the list is always growing):

  • Cortana
  • Email
  • Facebook
  • GroupMe
  • Kik
  • LINE
  • Microsoft Teams
  • Skype
  • Skype for Business
  • Slack
  • Telegram

Through middleware created by the Bot Builder Community, your business’s bots can reach additional channels like Alexa and Google.

With Direct Line, your developers can also establish communications through your bots and your business’s custom apps on the web and on devices.

Companies like Dixons Carphone, BMW, Vodafone, UEI, LaLiga, and UPS are already using Microsoft Azure Bot Service support for multiple channels to extend their Bot reach.

UPS Chatbot, for instance, delivers shipping information and answers customer questions through voice and text on Skype and Facebook Messenger. UPS, which invests more than $1 billion a year in technology, developed its chatbot in-house and plans to continue to update its functionality, including integration with the UPS My Choice® platform using Direct Line. In just the first eight months, UPS Bot has already had more than 200,000 conversations over its various channels.

LaLiga, the Spanish football league, is also reaching its huge and devoted fan base through multiple channels with Azure Bot Service. It is estimated that LaLiga touches 1.6 billion fans worldwide on social media.

Using an architecture that combines Azure Bot Service, Microsoft Bot Framework and multiple Azure Cognitive Services such as Luis and Text Analysis, LaLiga maintains bots on Skype, Alexa and Google Assistant that use natural language processing. NLP allows their chatbots to understand both English and Spanish, their regional dialects, and even the soccer slang particular to each dialect. They are even able to use a tool called Azure Monitor anomaly detection to identify new player nicknames created by fans and then match them to the correct person. In this and similar ways, LaLiga’s chatbots are always learning and adapting over time. LaLiga plans to deploy its chatbots to almost a dozen additional channels in the near future.

Conclusion

Because social media endpoints are always changing, developing for a single delivery platform is simply not cost-effective. Channels provide businesses with a way to develop a bot once but deploy it to new social media platforms as they appear on the market and gain influence. At the same time, your core bot features can constantly be improved, and these improvements will automatically benefit the pre-existing channels people use to communicate with you.