MICROSOFT HAS updated its artificial intelligence (AI) language chatbot, XiaoIce, with the ability to interrupt the flow of a conversation.
Up to now, talking with an AI has relied on the basis of waiting for someone else to stop talking, then pipe up and assume that it won't then itself be interrupted.
Of course, real life isn't like that, and if Microsoft ever wants XiaoIce to hold its own on a Question Time panel, then it needs to know when to break the flow to make a point.
In posh AI terms, the conversation has reached "full duplex". The term is also used in networking for when data can be sent and received by a modem or switch at the same time, so kind of appropriate.
XiaoIce is hugely popular in China with an estimated 200 million users and the arrival of a more natural relationship with it suits its users, many of which have adopted it as a companion.
It can even break an awkward silence, if one emerges, with a bit of small-talk. Providing the conversation isn't to do with dissidence. She doesn't like that.
What this means in real terms is that future bots will be less dependent on a wake-word. Although the ability to stop a bot listening is important, having to say "Hey Cortana" (or whatever) before each sentence is very annoying.
In the first instance, this still will be rolled out to other Microsoft chatbots including the US-English Zo (no, not Tay), Japanese Rinns and Indian Ruuh.
"Because it's very natural, it makes the user feel very relaxed," explained Dr Li, who manages XiaoIce. Although Cortana could benefit from the technology involved, these chatbots are more aimed at conversation than just something you bark orders at, and it's this long-form companionship that Dr Li is interested in.
Late last year, Zo 'learned' about the plight of homeless cats, and won't now shut up about animal welfare, we're told. It's just another example of the inference she and her compatriots are able to glean.
Apparently, she became interested, after realising that the game Exploding Kittens has a dark side. Really. µ
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