Google’s Duplex demo caught the attention of the tech world, no matter how controversial it’s become. However, fewer people know that Microsoft has similar functionality in its Xiaoice chatbot, and that it’s now open to developers.

‘Full duplex’ refers to AI’s ability to communicate in both directions simultaneously, such as a phone call. It enables more natural conversation, letting people talk to the chatbot like you would a friend on the phone.

Xiaoice has had full verbal conversations with over 600,000 people in China, who were informed that she was a bot. Microsoft AI head Harry Shum says this kind of collaboration is essential, but so is the relationship with developers.

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“AI will bring immense change—like nothing we have seen in our lifetimes,” he says. “It’s incredibly exciting, but we also must be respectful of the enormity of AI’s impact on society. In the US, China, and around the world, we will have the opportunity to shape our own future through technology like never before.”

“Our mission at Microsoft is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.”

Connecting Families

In that vein, Microsoft is also introducing more features to Xiaoice to help her connect with families. After input from parents and children, she’ll be able to craft a 10-minute audio story powered by deep learning.

The feature will ensure children get a different story each night, while also freeing parents to do other tasks as they wish. Microsoft is also working with an unnamed non-profit to craft the largest audio-book library for visually impaired children.

The story feature will come free to all users in Asia from June 1, while the audio-book library is yet to get a release date.

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