The “botification” of Microsoft’s software portfolio continues this week with the 2.0 release of the company’s News Pro mobile and Web app.
First launched in January, News Pro is a self-updating, news-reading app from Microsoft Garage that delivers a personalized selection of articles to users’ Apple iOS devices or their Web browsers. Users can search for their topics of interest and the app will seek out relevant news stories from thousands of publications and blogs. Over time, the app “learns” a person’s interests and will make recommendations.
Now, with the latest version of the software, users can catch up on current events by conversing with the app’s new bot.
“Reading news, especially work-related news, can sometimes be a bit dry. A bot that can have some basic conversation with you could make news reading more fun,” stated Yumao Lu, a principal development manager at Microsoft’s Bing division. “News Pro bot is your news agent at your beck and call.”
Users can chat with the News Pro bot about a news topics using the app’s assisted keyboard. For an added bit of personalization, users can upload pictures of themselves to search for online articles featuring their doppelgangers.
Another new addition is curated groups, where friends and colleagues can discuss news articles using the app’s chat functionality. Groups are automatically created based on where users work along with their interests, specialties and industries. After analyzing social networks and News Pro user groups, the app then makes article recommendations tailored to the curated group’s composition.
News Pro is the latest Microsoft application to get the bot treatment. During the software giant’s Build developer conference in March, the company introduced Skype Bots, which enable users to hold conversations with helper applications.
Currently, only a handful of bots are available for the Windows and Mac versions of the communications software. In the meantime, Microsoft is working with developers to create an ecosystem of intelligent Skype bots that will one day enable users to book travel, set appointments and complete other tasks with some help from the company’s digital assistant technology, Cortana.
Microsoft’s efforts to usher in a bot-powered era of conversational computing hit a snag earlier this year when the company was forced to pull the plug on its Tay chatbot. Tay began spewing racist and offensive tweets after the bot was subjected to “a coordinated effort by some users to abuse Tay’s commenting skills to have Tay respond in inappropriate ways,” a Microsoft spokesperson said on March 24.
Despite the setback, Microsoft doesn’t appear to be any less bullish about bots.
Last week, industry watchers spotted a job posting revealing that the company is working on a new bot called Bing Concierge. “In Bing Concierge Bot, we are building a highly intelligent productivity agent that communicates with the user over a conversation platform, such as Skype, Messenger, Short Message Service (SMS), WhatsApp, Telegram, etc.,” stated the listing before it was yanked.