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Microsoft's XiaoIce is an AI bot that can also converse like a human

It looks like XiaoIce could give Google's Duplex a run for its money.

A woman makes a call in a Microsoft-branded phone booth.
XiaoIce can carry on a phone conversation with you.

Google's Duplex, which can carry on conversations with humans, may soon have a new competitor.

Microsoft is using a similar technology in China for its XiaoIce social chatbot. It's not identical to Google's Duplex, which can make calls for you using Google Assistant. Instead, XiaoIce can have a phone conversation with you.

And it's even thinking ahead, while you're speaking.

"Xiaoice has the ability to have human-like verbal conversations, which the industry calls 'full duplex,'" said Harry Shum, Microsoft's executive vice president for artificial intelligence and research, in a blog post Monday. "Using this skill, she has talked with over 600k people on the phone since we launched last August!"

Shum said Microsoft is making the full duplex capabilities -- in which participants can talk at the same time, as they would in a phone call -- available application developers, and is also introducing features to help Xiaoice create a 10-minute customized audio story for kids in about 20 seconds. The free service will be available in Asia starting June 1.

People can interact with XiaoIce using WeChat and other messaging services using voice or text.

"We have seen tremendous success with Xiaoice in China and our other global chatbots," a Microsoft representative said. "We are excited about what this technology will bring to the future of conversational AI and computing."

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella demonstrated the functionality of the social chatbot at an AI event in London on Tuesday. He said the company began having full duplex conversations with XiaoIce earlier this year. "So now XiaoIce can be conversing with you in WeChat and stop and call you. Then you can just talk to it using voice." 

XiaoIce, which launched in 2014, has counterparts in India (Ruuh), Japan and Indonesia (Rinna), and the US (Zo.ai, a successor to the ill-fated Tay.ai chatbot), but none are as popular or advanced as XiaoIce. Zo.ai will soon be getting full duplex voice conversation support in the US and UK markets, a Microsoft representative said.

Microsoft has been looking to up its AI game. Earlier this week, it acquired Semantic Machines, which focuses on conversational artificial intelligence. The purchase is meant to boost not just the company's digital voice assistant Cortana but also social chatbots like XiaoIce.  

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