Bots rising: Skype to continue conversational innovation in 2017

In the spring of this year, we introduced you to a new world of conversational computingwhere conversations become the new platform. This paradigm shift is enabling our machines to harness the power of human conversation, leading to endless improvements in efficiency, intelligence, and, of course, fun. In 2017, we can’t wait to show you how we’re pushing this shift even further.

At the forefront of this push is Skype. Since the emergence of conversational computing we’ve seen an ever-growing presence of bots. While we’re still in the early days of innovation, we believe that we’re truly changing the way consumers engage with our partners. And our partners? They’re already demonstrating this tidal shift.

One of those new partners is Expedia.com, coming soon to all Skype platforms. With the Expedia bot, you can easily search for hotels, quickly book, manage reservations, and confirm or cancel hotels and flights. And should you ever have a question the bot can’t answer, Expedia is proud to be one of the first bots that allows calling directly to Expedia, free of charge.

Expedia botLike travel, we’ve also seen innovation in the shipping space. Our partner UPS has created a bot on Skype that can track packages, calculate shipping rates, and find a user’s local branch. Again, we see a future without rigid search forms or one-size-fits-all FAQs. Today, Skype consumers can ask personalized questions and get personalized answers, making their lives more efficient in real, tangible ways.

UPS botBut what about fun? Like, “transporting into the mystical realm of Marvel Studios’ Doctor Stephen Strange” fun? In November, we partnered with Marvel to bring Skype users into the world of Doctor Strange. Fans could send new emoticons to their friends, or they could test their mettle with the Doctor Strange bot*—a journey to see if you have what it takes to become his assistant.

Doctor Strange botOr maybe “fun” to you is about getting out into the world? That’s great, because StubHub—the online event ticketing giant—has also joined Skype as a partner. The StubHub bot will allow you to purchase tickets for rock concerts, sports events, or even your favorite stand-up comedian all from within your Skype window. Finding your next great experience is as simple as talking to your friends.

StubHub botMore than creating efficiencies or entertaining experiences, bots are also pushing the boundaries of education for our customers. Skype, in partnership with Eton Institute and partner company Learningonline.xyz, is developing a bot that can teach users a new language. Coming soon, this new tool is just a fraction of what will be possible with this emerging technology.

Language learning botAnd finally – Hipmunk. One of the earliest to join us on this mission, Hello Hipmunk has been an early success and continues to innovate. For consumers, travel planning is often a nightmare—the planning, the logistics. Pick 10 random people, and you’ll likely find that they have different questions, concerns, and priorities when it comes to planning a vacation. With bots, gone are the rigid controls and forms of apps. You can now interact with bots using natural language, as if talking to a human. And, now that they have joined forces with Concur, the bot will get even smarter and more personal for business travelers, given that 70% of large corporations use Concur Travel. The end result? People are happy and Hipmunk is understanding them like never before.

Hipmunk botAnd this is only the beginning. This paradigm shift will come in waves, and soon our partners will be able to create talking bots with the general availability of the Skype calling API. That means users will be able to interact with bots that can actually speak to you, creating even more possibilities. And what’s more? Bots will be able to send rich media cards, adding the capability to bring video, audio, and GIFs into chat conversations. Combined, these new features will drive richer and more engaging experiences for our users, making 2017—and the years ahead—incredibly exciting.

In early 2016, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella explained that pairing “the power of natural human language with advanced machine intelligence” will enable organizations and consumers to get more done and have more fun. In 2017, that vision—a vision that has taken shape over the better part of two decades—will continue to flourish under Skype.

This is just the latest in a series of coordinated investments across Microsoft that bring together artificial intelligence (AI) and conversational computing, which we highlighted today at a Microsoft AI event in San Francisco.

So, it bears repeating—we cannot wait for you to see what’s next.

To check out these great new bots and more, make sure you are on the latest Skype app for Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, or Web. To learn more about bots, please visit our Skype FAQ and Skype bots feature page.

*Doctor Strange available U.S. only