A battle's brewing over bots.
Amid a slew of bot-related announcements this spring, a recent Microsoft job listing reveals that the company has been looking for a software engineer to help build a new bot called Bing Concierge. The online listing has been yanked since it was discovered this week by Business Insider and other media outlets.
"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, SMS, WhatsApp, Telegram, etc.," stated the listing before it was pulled.
Microsoft went on to describe a bot that employs speech and natural language input, automatically connecting users to service providers and completing tasks in a conversational manner. "The agent does what a human assistant would do: it runs errands on behalf of the user, by automatically completing tasks for the user," Microsoft wrote.
Bots are a big deal lately, at least among tech giants looking to rescue consumers from the "app problem," or the overabundance of dedicated mobile apps for online stores, travel services, banks and other service providers that clog smartphone home screens.
During the May 18 to 20 Google I/O conference, the search giant announced Google Assistant, which is slated to launch later this year. Combining search, voice recognition, language translation, analytics and several other technologies, Google Assistant will provide Android and iPhone users with "a conversational assistant," Google CEO Sundar Pichai said in his keynote.
"We want users to have an ongoing, two-way dialogue with Google," Pichai said. "We want you to get things done in your real world, and we want to do it for you in your context, and giving you control."
Last month at Facebook's F8 event, the social network unveiled chatbots for its Messenger platform. The company envisions that its chatbots will help link Messenger's 900 million users with businesses and content providers, allowing consumers to order a bouquet flowers without having to dial 1-800-Flowers, for instance.
Aiming to usher in the "conversations as a platform" era, Microsoft took the wraps off its new Bot Framework, a part of the Cortana Intelligence Suite, and Skype Bot Platform during its Build developer conference in March. "With this overall effort, Microsoft is clearly showcasing that they intend to be a big part of intelligent systems development for the future," Rob Enderle, technology analyst and founder of the Enderle Group, told eWEEK's Darryl K. Taft at the event.
While the industry may be obsessed with bots, there are some signs that bots won't unseat mobile apps any time soon.
Microsoft was recently forced to pull the plug on its Tay bot after it began spewing offensive tweets at the prodding of some users. Also, current bot technology is often literal to a fault. Users are frequently forced to input commands with unnatural specificity, effectively erasing the productivity and usability gains touted by bot makers.