Satya Nadella says Microsoft's rogue racist chatbot failed by its own standards

At today’s Microsoft Build event, CEO Satya Nadella has made it clear that he sees chatbots as the next big thing.

To that end, Microsoft announced a new series of tools to help developers build helpful conversational bots into apps like Skype.

In a demo, Microsoft showed off using the Cortana digital assistant within Skype to answer questions and find directions right within a chat window. That’s coming to Skype on Windows 10, iOS, and Android.

But as Microsoft works on putting bots and artificial intelligence everywhere, “I think it’s important to have a principled approach,” Nadella says.

To Nadella’s mind, a bot should “augment human experiences and experiences,” it should be “trustworthy,” and it should be “inclusive and respectful.”

So while Nadella lauds tools like Microsoft’s Cortana digital assistant for meeting those standards, he was less keen on Tay — Microsoft’s Twitter bot that infamously went rogue, posting terrible racist tweets.

“Tay was not up to these marks,” Nadella says, and so it’s back to the “drawing board” with her.

Instead, Nadella pointed at Cortana and Microsoft products like Skype Translate, which can translate a message in real-time, as examples of how artificial intelligence can help make people more productive.

“It’s not going to be about man vs. machine. It’s going to be about man with machine,” Nadella says.

Going forward, Nadella says that he sees artificial intelligence falling into three major product categories:

  • People, like Skype Translate, where you’re talking to a human and AI is just facilitating.
  • Bots, like Microsoft’s Tay or Slack’s Slackbot, that you interact with directly to get stuff done. “Bots are like new apps,” Nadella says.
  • Personal digital assistants, like Cortana or Apple’s Siri, that help access other bots to answer questions and accomplish tasks. Nadella calls this a “meta-app,” like a web browser, that you use to access other services.

“We want to build technology such that it gets the best of humanity, not the worst,” says Nadella.

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