While the saying “there is no such thing as bad publicity” is a marketing myth, Microsoft is generally winning from some negative press surrounding its chat bot efforts. The company has been the subject of some rib tickling from NBC's “Saturday Night Live”. The comedy show pokes fun of Microsoft trying to be politically correct with an overtly gay robot.
Featuring SNL cast members Kate McKinnon and Fred Armisen as Microsoft employees, and guest host Casey Affleck as a reporter, the skit puts a target on Microsoft. Speaking to a so-called “robotic employee” Affleck questions the need for the Helix 900 and Helix 950 robots to be programmed as homosexual.
This shocks the Microsoft team, who respond with:
“So you don't mind gay robots, as long as they don't talk about being gay?” McKinnon asks.
“I'm sorry, Cindy, are we still in the Stone Age?” Armisen adds.
The sketch is a nod to Microsoft's previous failed attempts with chat bots and the company's political correctness. You may remember the company launched its Tay AI chat bot on twitter and other platforms earlier in the year. The idea was for Tay to learn the more she was interacted with.
Through these conversations, the AI would improve the bot's ability to converse and answer questions. However, within days Microsoft had to pull Tay offline after she started spurting sexist and racist comments. For the most part, these were just repetitions, but it was clear Tay could learn as many bad things as she could good.
Learning from Tay
While Tay can best be described as a disaster for Microsoft, it actually turned out well for the company. Users do not seem to have been angered by the chat bot and it helped fuel perception that Microsoft is not a forgotten company anymore. As SNL has proved, it is cool to like Microsoft again.
Also, the company has recently returned with the Zo.ai chat bot. This new learning service offers many of the same services as Tay, but Microsoft says it has tighter control on what Zo can learn and utter.