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Microsoft Announces the General Availability of Azure Bot Service and Language Understanding

| by Steef-Jan Wiggers Follow 9 Followers on Jan 05, 2018. Estimated reading time: 3 minutes | NOTICE: QCon.ai - Applied AI for Developers Apr 15 - 17, 2019, San Francisco. Join us!

Microsoft recently announced that the Azure Bot Service and Language Understanding has become generally available. Both had previously been in public preview for months, and the release increases availability in nine more regions including Ireland, Hong Kong and Sao Paulo, Brazil, and new capabilities to aid developers in achieving more. 

Language Understanding (LUIS), a part of Cognitive Services, is a collection of APIs that enables systems to hear, see, speak, understand and interpret the needs of humans using natural methods of communication. LUIS can be a part of bot created through the Azure Bot Service, a service that enables developers to develop conversational interfaces on many channels. Lili Cheng, corporate vice president, Artificial Intelligence and Research Group at Microsoft, noted in the announcement on the Azure blog:

Making these two services generally available on Azure simultaneously extends the capabilities of developers to build custom models that can naturally interpret the intentions of people conversing with bots.

A typical Azure Bot Service provisioning process includes choosing the type of bot, subscription, location, language SDK (C# or Node.js), pricing tier, and bot template, which can be language understanding. Once the provisioning is complete, the bot can be tested immediately in the Azure Portal. A language understanding bot can be further customized in the LUIS AI by adding more intents besides the basic ones. Furthermore, through the build tab in the Azure Bot Service blade developers can choose how to work with the code either by using the code editor, download the zip file and open in Visual Studio, or establish continuous integration control. The channels tab offers options to connect to various channels such as Skype, Twilio, and Slack. Finally, a few other tabs provide analytics, speech priming, and bot service pricing.

Image Source: (screenshot) https://channel9.msdn.com/Shows/AI-Show/Announcing-General-Availability-of-Azure-Bot-Service-and-Language-Understanding-service

In the channel 9 Microsoft AI show on general availability release of Azure Bot Service and Language Understanding service, Elaine Chang, senior program manager, Microsoft Cloud AI, introduced some of the new capabilities, where Microsoft:

  • Increased investments in Service Level Agreement, higher service reliability, global access, and understanding of 18 languages
  • Added Premium Channels tier with 99.9% SLA for Web Chat and DirectLine
  • Integrated the Azure Service Bot into Azure with 24x7 Azure support, and combined billing and reporting
  • Made improvements to the documentation, SDKs, samples, and the bot service templates
  • Made updates to enable a business to control and own conversation state storage
  • Provided integration with the Microsoft Knowledge Graph Exchange for the Cortana channel
  • Evolved LUIS from 80 intents and 30 entities to 500 intents and 100 entities

The improvements are further detailed in-depth in the bot framework documentation.

In general, more than 760,000 developers from 60 countries are using the Cognitive Services, which is a part of the Microsoft AI platform. Moreover, the Azure Bot service too is part of this platform, and the adoption among developers of the Azure Bot Service is substantial with 240,000 developers signing up for using the service so far including companies like UPS, Molson Coors, and many more.

Image source: https://azure.microsoft.com/en-us/blog/announcing-the-general-availability-of-azure-bot-service-and-language-understanding-enabling-developers-to-build-better-conversational-bots/

Microsoft is not alone in providing AI services and bots. In November 2016 Google launched an enterprise version of its DialogFlow Chatbot API, which enables developers to build voice and text-based conversational interfaces powered by AI, some startups to have platforms to create chatbots, like Dexter, who released a do-it-yourself chatbot creator in March 2017. 

For the pricing of the Azure Bot Service, valid from the 1st of February 2018, visit the pricing page, and the capability is available in 28 regions. The full documentation on the Azure Bot Service is accessible through the bot service documentation. Furthermore, the pricing for LUIS start with a free tier; see the pricing details at Cognitive Services pricing—Language Understanding (LUIS) valid from the 1st of February, 2018. This capability is available in 13 regions, and the full documentation is available on the LUIS documentation site.
 

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