Bot Framework at Microsoft Build 2017

New Channels, New Docs, New Ways to Make Great Bots

Today, Microsoft is announcing numerous updates to the Bot Framework designed to help developers make great conversationalists.

1 New Channels

Three new channels are available today, increasing your bot’s reach to even more of the Microsoft audience, as well as people engaged in many of the world’s most popular messaging experiences.

The Cortana channel enables you to extend Cortana by authoring Skills. Visit the Cortana developer portal to learn how to add your skills to Cortana.

The Bing channel allows users to discover and chat with your bot directly in the Bing search result page. Bing bots are authored using the Bot Framework and connected via the Bing channel. The Bing Bot development experience allows bot developers to publish their bots to Bing, where they appear in the Bing Bots Rich Answer. Users will also be able to chat with the bot on! You can see an example right here with our Local Business Bot. Bots in the Bing results pages leverage the new Skype Web Control.

Skype for Business is now integrated with the Bot Framework, allowing your bots to be part of conversations on the Skype for Business canvas. Visit the Skype for Business Bot Framework overview page to learn how to connect your bots to Skype for Business.

2 Adaptive Cards

Adaptive Cards provide developers an easier way to compose user experiences that span devices and modalities. A card is a piece of UI defined by the developer and rendered by the host application to display to the user. An Adaptive Card is made of composable visual building blocks described in JSON that automatically automatically adapt to the host’s branding, UX, theme, layout and modality.

3 Bot Payments

Build a payment enabled bot and streamline the checkout process. The Payment Request API now provides fast, easy checkout experience within the Bot Framework.

With online shopping cart abandonment rates currently sitting above 60% across the web we’re looking to this API to reduce friction during the checkout process. See the integration guide for the Bot Framework.

Learn more on Microsoft Seller Center!

4 Cortana

Cortana is extended via Cortana Skills, which allows bots created via the Bot Framework to be published to the Cortana Channel as a new skill. Through the Bot Framework, you can build, debug, deploy and publish bots that users can access via the Cortana Channel. Adding your existing bots to Cortana is simply an exercise in adding a new channel, verifying your scenarios work well on a speech-first canvas, and then publishing the bot to the Cortana Channel.

To jumpstart development of Cortana Skills (and bots!) we’ve added more than 20 predefined, fully customizable, packages in LUIS that help bootstrap language model creation. Some examples include Sports, Weather, Contacts, and Calendars.

Learn more about building Cortana Skills.

5 Language Understanding (LUIS)

Language Understanding Intelligent Service (LUIS), part of Microsoft Cognitive Services, helps developers integrate language models that understand users quickly and easily, using either prebuilt or customized models. Updates to LUIS include increased intents and entities, introduction of new powerful developer tools for productivity, additional ways for the community to use and contribute, improved speech recognition with Microsoft Bot Framework, and more global availability.

We’ve improved all aspects of LUIS. Today we’ve added Language Features such as ListsComposite EntitiesSemantic suggestions/recommendation, and even Spell Checking.

The most requested LUIS features have all been added. In this release we have:

  • Increased application limits to 80 intents and 30 entities.
  • Added a new List Entity type, which includes synonyms.
  • Added support for Korean and Dutch, with additional locales for French, Spanish
  • Improved performance and quality of our DateTime and Number built-in entities for Spanish, English, and Chinese. In addition we have open-sourced these recognizers for community use and contribution!
  • Added SDLC tools such as Versioning, Production/Staging slots, Batch Testing, and Application sharing.
  • Added Semantic Dictionaries that help with bootstrapping list building.
  • Added the ability to utilize your language model to improve speech recognition with Bot Framework.
  • Included fine-grained modifiable pre-built Domains (intents and entities)
    • Planning 20 domains from Cortana and newly created at Microsoft Build
  • Enabled worldwide deployments, including West Europe, East US 2, & West Central US, and South East Asia.

The LUIS documentation has been updated throughout, and integrated into our documentation portal.

6 Speech

The Bot Framework has added support for speech throughout the platform. We’ve updated our protocols, included SSML Support in the SDKs, and even integrated your bot’s LUIS models into our speech systems to provide improved speech recognition, so your users can tap, type and talk to your bot. We also have speech debugging support through the in-portal Webchat control and the Bot Framework Emulator.

7 Documentation

All aspects of documentation for the Bot Framework have been updated, including new articles, a more intuitive layout, and integration into the infrastructure for a uniform end-user experience.

8 Bot Analytics

A standard suite of analytics provides metrics for bot developers such as user retention rates, message rates, and related operational metrics. These analytics are driven from data in Azure Application Insights and fully searchable by developer.

9 Publishing Flow

The process by which bots connect to Channels has been reworked to allow better integration and fidelity on a channel-by-channel basis.

10 Azure Bot Service V.Next

UPDATE (07/09/18): The original iteration of the Azure Bot Service ‘V.Next’  announced back in Build 2017 as described below, is something we are currently no longer planning on releasing to market. The current Bot Framework offerings available are entirely code-based, with the Azure Bot Service V.3 publicly available, and the Azure Bot Service V.4 in preview.  V3 supports .NET and Node.js, while the new V4 in development will support new languages such as Python and Java. Please refer to our blog post from Build 2018 for a more up to date overview of what we have planned in store for the Bot Framework!

The next iteration of the Azure Bot Service will provide a one-stop-shop development experience. It seamlessly brings together several aspects of bot development including language understanding, language generation, dialog and user experience in one cohesive authoring experience. It provides clean separation between your bot’s business logic and conversational logic as well as a rich runtime that helps manage conversations. Lastly, Azure Bot Service vNext comes with an integrated LUIS authoring experience, adaptive cards and speech support. A sneak peek of vNext will be demonstrated at Microsoft Build.

10.1 Demo: Build your own bots with Azure Bot Service

In this episode of the Microsoft Mechanics show you will see an end to end scenario of using the Bot Framework and Microsoft Cognitive Services. The demo shows how an insurance company can directly interact with customers using a natural conversational interface.

To see Azure Bot Service in action, plus how you can bring in Cognitive Services alongside CRM and even how to build your own simple bot, check out this week’s Microsoft Mechanics show.

11 New AI MVP Award Category

The world of data and AI is evolving at an unprecedented pace, and so is its community of experts. The Microsoft MVP Award Program is pleased to announce the launch of the new AI Award Category for recognizing outstanding community leadership among AI experts. Potential “AI MVPs” include developers creating intelligent apps and bots, modeling human interaction (voice, text, speech, etc.), writing AI algorithms, training data sets and sharing this expertise with their technical communities.

An AI MVP will be awarded based on contributions in the follow technology contribution areas.

The AI Award Category will be a new addition to the current award categories. If you or someone you know may qualify, submit a nomination!

Happy Making!

The Bot Framework Team