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Microsoft Launches New Cloud Bot Service for Azure
Posted November 15, 2016
Microsoft Launches New Cloud Bot Service for Azure
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By Jef Cozza. Updated November 15, 2016 10:33AM

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Redmond today announced the Azure Bot Service, a new service for its Azure cloud platform designed to help developers create intelligent bots for Azure using the Microsoft Bot Framework. The bots will run on Azure Functions, a serverless environment, that allows enterprises to scale their bots as needed.

The Azure Bot Service will let enterprises build, connect, deploy, and manage bots that interact naturally with users through an app, Web site, SMS platform, Slack, Facebook Messenger, Skype, and several other popular services.

Microsoft said the new service will help companies accelerate intelligent bot development. “You can get started quickly with out-of-the-box templates such as the basic bot, Language Understanding Intelligent Service bot, form bot, and proactive bot,” Lili Cheng, an engineer with Microsoft’s Artificial Intelligence and Research Group, said on the company’s blog.

“You can build bots in C# or Node.js directly in the browser and try it out with the companion Web Chat control," she said. "Or you can use the IDE and code editor of your choice under the covers; the Azure Bot Service uses an Azure Resource Manager (ARM) template to create an Azure Function App for easy deployment and automatically registers your bot in the Microsoft Bot Framework, which provides a public bot directory to increase the exposure of your bot."

Deal with OpenAI

The bot service wasn’t Microsoft’s only announcement for the Azure platform today. The company also said it has inked a new deal with nonprofit artificial intelligence (AI) project OpenAI to make Azure the preferred cloud platform for the organization’s biggest and most important AI experiments.

OpenAI already uses Azure as its primary cloud provider. Today’s announcement should help Microsoft cement Azure’s position in the burgeoning AI sector.

“OpenAI chose Microsoft due to our deep learning research and ongoing commitment to AI, along with Azure’s support for open source technologies and its unique combination of high performance computing, big data and intelligence capabilities such as Azure Batch, Azure Machine Learning and the Microsoft Cognitive Toolkit (formerly CNTK),” Harry Shum, executive vice president of the company’s Artificial Intelligence and Research Group, said in a blog post.

OpenAI was already an early adopter of Microsoft’s Azure N-Series Virtual Machines, which will be generally available starting in December. The virtual machines are designed for intensive compute workloads, including deep learning, simulations, rendering and the training of neural networks. They also enable high-end visualization capabilities to allow for workstation and streaming scenarios by utilizing Nvidia GRID in Azure.

Powering AI Advances

“Our news today builds on other recent Azure releases designed to power AI advances,” Shum said. More than 50,000 developers are already building bots with the Microsoft Bot Framework, and companies such as Lowe’s, Uber, DutchCrafters and AllRecipes.com are using Cortana Intelligence and Azure, he added.

“We’ve made major strides in artificial intelligence just in the past five years, achieving milestones many people who have devoted their lives to the field wouldn’t have thought possible," Shum said. "Now, we have the opportunity to help our partners and customers use these breakthroughs to achieve their goals.”

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