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During the Microsoft Puerto Rico Innovation Forum 2016 last week, Christian Gonzalez and I had the chance to present a session on the growing role of smart applications and chat bots. Fueled by the advanced workload APIs available in the Microsoft Azure platform, these cloud-based solutions will continue to bridge the gap between humans and computers, more closely mimicking humans, and in some cases, replacing the role of humans.

What constitutes a smart app is one which can learn, predict, and interact with humans and other apps through insightful analysis. Some advanced, smart Microsoft Azure workloads include chatbots, machine learning tools, cognitive services and intelligent APIs. What all of these new smart apps have in common are the new human similarities – in some cases, the ability to recognize changes in facial expression; to hear and speak to users, while filtering noise and understanding intent; to process text to learn what users really want; and to tap into knowledge gathered from the web, academia and a company’s data.

Bring on the Bots

Bots are everywhere in technology, performing all kinds of automated tasks – from setting an alarm or displaying the weather each day – to helping us process an insurance claim. In a previous post I questioned their necessity for many tasks, yet what is clear is that people – especially millennials – are increasingly relying on chatbots, which can hold a conversation with someone to accomplish a task or answer a question. People are now spending more time in messaging apps than in social media and that is a huge turning point for chatbots. People under 35 have reduced their number of voice interactions and two times their web interactions.

The possibilities for leveraging the Microsoft Azure platform to build and connect intelligent bots to interact with users naturally wherever they may be, are everywhere — from text/sms to Skype, Slack, Office 365 mail and other popular services. Customer-facing, intelligent bots are providing a new level of communication, reducing the burden on support staff and the frustrations of customers who can be put in a telephone queue for hours.

In retail, chatbots are invigorating brand engagement and sales, enabling retailers to implements apps that gather customer information through interactive quizzes and offering personalized beauty tips and product recommendations based on buying history; or in healthcare, helping to answer a patient’s medical questions.

Likewise, internal productivity bots are improving the efficiency of employees by providing the right information and automation to complex tasks. In telecommunications, employees no longer have to make internal calls to find answers to provisioning questions as bots are able to understand specific questions and find the data in the enterprise. Human resource departments have bots to provide answers to benefit and employment questions; and the IT helpdesk is primarily managed by a bot that is capable of resolving the most common IT problems.

As cognitive tools and bots continue to read facial expressions, understand human emotion and learn new skills, the differences are blurring between humans and computers. Advanced development platforms such as Microsoft Azure are making the possibilities endless.

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