back to article Bot you see is what you get: The cold reality of Microsoft's chat 'AI'

Microsoft's Bot Framework received a minor feature injection at the Windows giant's Build 2017 developer conference, with the addition of Adaptive Cards for cross-platform rich media and support for new channels and the company's payment API. Harry Shum, executive vice president of Microsoft's Artificial Intelligence and …

  1. Pascal Monett Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    "Headless apps"

    I like that term, it applies to so many things I already see on mobile phones, it's uncanny.

    1. DropBear Silver badge

      Re: "Headless apps"

      If they insist on "bot"-style terminology, I would suggest switching to "zombot". It seems to reflect the average level of "intelligence" that can be expected of them fairly accurately...

    2. LaeMing Bronze badge

      Re: "Headless apps"

      "Headless" does imply "Brainless"

  2. Terry 6 Silver badge

    And they want to make sure their customers aren't calling them over the phone.

    That's the thing

    By and large this is not about developing useful new technologies: It's about beancounters seeing customer service as a cost centre to be reduced ( to as close to zero as possible).

    We already see contact details hidden, obfuscated, redirected to FAQs. With messages and calls ( if you do manage to find a contact number or real email address) being ignored, bounced back to the same pages of FAQs, or passed through script monkeys who can't resolve issues.

    Bots are just intended to be one more barrier to getting customer service.

    The big companies have made a decision to scale up sales without scaling up service.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: And they want to make sure their customers aren't calling them over the phone.

      And honestly, the reason why big companies scale up sales without scaling up service is because that's what customers want. (judged on what they actually *buy*)

      I work in a service company. There are basically three variables on service.

      1) Number of jobs ongoing at the same time.

      2) Number of staff available.

      3) Experience of staff available.

      We have two levels of service. One is cheap to compete on price comparison sites, meaning relatively few and relatively inexperienced staff dealing with larger volumes.

      The other one is about double the price, which is enough to pay an experienced chap with 40+ years experience to not retire and continue to offer a cracking service along with a top class backup team and numbers controlled so that more time can be spent on each, and a higher level of customer service can be delivered.

      Some people are willing to pay for the second. Far more people want to pay peanuts but expect to get the same top tier service without paying enough to support the wages of the jobs delivering that service. Customers make decisions to buy cheaper services with a poorer level of customer service over more expensive services with better customer service. This is the customers choice, that companies try and automate customer service to reduce costs as a result is directly attributable to that decision.

      1. Tim 11

        Re: And they want to make sure their customers aren't calling them over the phone.

        What nobody seems to be able to grasp is that if you make your product or service inherently usable and reliable, and fix problems reported by customers rather than just fobbing them off quickly to keep your "tickets closed" numbers up, people won't need to keep calling customer service, and that's what really slashes helpdesk costs.

  3. Ole Juul Silver badge


    "Command lines are inherently unintuitive."

    That's just presumptuous. Some people do have difficulty with text in general, but there is nothing inherently "unintuitive" about the command line to people who can read and write. I'm saying this, not because I think there is anything wrong with other interfaces, but because there is no need for Mr. Volum to make assumptions about other people based on his own preferences.

    1. getHandle

      Re: ymmv

      (( like++ ))

    2. James 51 Silver badge

      Re: ymmv

      Command lines are inherently unintuitive.

      That is what I was taught in my HCI class. For expert users they get the job done quickly but for anyone else they can be a pain as discoverability is opaque to non-existent. Before you start arguing, can you show me who this is intuitive to:

      cprofile [/l] [/i] [/v] [FileList]

      $ nano ~/.bash_profile

      at \\prodserver 23:45 /every:1,4,8,12,16,20,24,28 "bkprtn.bat"

      Command lines have to be learnt and there isn't an AI behind the scenes trying to figure out what not only did people type but also what they meant.

      1. Cuddles Silver badge

        Re: ymmv

        "Command lines have to be learnt and there isn't an AI behind the scenes trying to figure out what not only did people type but also what they meant."

        Except that's not actually anything to do with command lines as an interface. Yes, command lines usually require specific languages and syntax to make them work, but that's not inherent to the idea of typed commands. If I can say "OK Google, play Raining Blood by Slayer" and have it successfully do so, there's absolutely no reason I shouldn't be able to type the same thing and get the same result. Command lines aren't unintuitive because they're unable to work like this, they simply appear unintuitive because they usually don't work like this - their intuitiveness is a traditional feature, not an inherent property.

        Of course, there's something of a vicious cycle there when you start asking should command lines be more intuitive to use. Command lines have generally been treated as a power tool for people who know what they're doing - you type a very specific command and get a very specific result, and you don't want any translation going on in case something you really don't want to happen does. This then feeds back and we end up with command lines that are built to only be treated this way, and therefore people only use them that way, and so on. But it's equally possible to build graphical and voice interfaces with the same issue, and that doesn't mean all GUIs and voice assistants must be as tricky as possible to use. You can have a GUI that destroys millions of pounds worth of equipment if you click the wrong icon, and you can command lines that don't screw up your computer if it fails to understand a vague command correctly. That we don't often get the latter is not inherent to the interface method.

      2. dbtx Bronze badge

        Re: ymmv

        In your HCI class, did they also point out that "The only truly intuitive interface is the nipple"? After that, learning is inevitable. It bothers me that smart people are trying to "rescue" the less-smart people from having to do it, and teaching each other that it is a worthy goal. Is cognitive obesity a documented thing? Maybe it should be. The silicon slaves being able to interpret our will is only going to make it worse.

        /me likes command lines because literally everything is one step away (vs. N clicks), and that step is spelling it correctly

        1. Ropewash

          Re: ymmv

          @ dbtx - "It bothers me that smart people are trying to "rescue" the less-smart people from having to do it, and teaching each other that it is a worthy goal."

          True. The smart people that repair car engines "rescue" the less smart people from having to learn how to do it. The smart people who know how to apply roofing materials correctly "rescue" the less smart people from having to learn (and also from leaky roofs). The smart people who can use a bulldozer to build a road grade "rescue" the less smart people from having to drive to work on a roller-coaster.

          Knowing how to use the sed command does not make a person more intelligent than knowing how to make a tree fall in the direction you want it to. (Also, the errors in tree falling make for better .webms than the sed command errors)

          1. This post has been deleted by its author

          2. This post has been deleted by its author

      3. LaeMing Bronze badge

        Re: ymmv

        "Command lines have to be learnt and there isn't an AI behind the scenes trying to figure out what not only did people type but also what they meant."

        /Yours/ might not!

        But the modern one on my Debian box is moving well in that direction, especially with intelligent tab suggestion/completion!

  4. Baldrickk Silver badge

    The way these bots approach gathering data reminds me of my old programs when I first started coding:

    Hello, what is your name?

    > Baldrickk

    What is your date of birth?

    > ## ## ####

    Thanks Baldrickk!

    You are ## years old!

    1. Robin

      "That's very interesting Baldrickk! Tell me more about ##"

  5. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

    Punch these people in the face!

    Ryan Volum, another Microsoft developer presenting during the session, said, "Command lines are inherently unintuitive."

    That's why, he suggested, software engineers have gravitated toward graphic interfaces. "Instead of users having to figure out the language of the machine, we showed them what to do with icons, menus and pointers," he said.

    Which is why we have graphic interfaces that are inherently unintuitive, if not frankly obnoxious. Basically "can't do this" nork legoland, nowadays everchanging and auto-rearranging according to passing designer fads.

  6. stephanh Silver badge

    a bot-based OS

    I have this system here which is completely bot-based.

    There is a top bot called "bash" which takes instructions from me, and redirects them to other bots. I have a bot called "grep" which is good in searching files, and a bot called "ls" which can tell me about my files.

    There is also a bot called "vim" but he is a bit weird since he insists on a "visual interface". Fortunately, if you call him "ex" he becomes reasonable and just wants to talk.

  7. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    " because no one really enjoys typing on mobile devices,"

    Who knew?

    Except journalists perhaps.

    1. James 51 Silver badge

      Re: " because no one really enjoys typing on mobile devices,"

      Should have bought a Blackberry.



    *Microsoft* command lines are inherently unintuitive.

    I've found that unix style command line interaction, given a little training in the early ages some 20+ years ago for me have actually led to a lot of intuitive discovery.

    Microsofts few command line forrays have always left me "DFGHJK" printed across my forehead.

  9. Stevie Silver badge


    Anything that makes me not have to use that bug-ugly flat three-color GUI is a good thing.

    It has infected the ATMs hereabouts now, and the new workflow required to get what used to be a simple job done requires three more screen operations, each requiring me to look at the Visual Nasty even longer.

    It is the sort of square and ugly GUI that IKEA might sell in a flatpack under the name "Güi".

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