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Bots for the future: Microsoft launches Rowe, an interestingly peculiar news bot

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Humans in general, love to talk — that is a known fact. I mean, we probably could have managed to get by without the more complicated forms of language — es — as we know them today, had it not been for a desire to express ourselves more clearly, comprehensively and succinctly.

The dawn of the technological era saw us develop ever new ways to communicate starting with the likes of notes and letters and reaching its current zenith in social networking and instant messaging. Well, after developing the modes of communication, our race has finally started to invent AI powered, capable and singular personalities to talk to and order around.  Along the same direction, Microsoft has rolled out a brand new, news-finding bot called Rowe, which is packed inside it’s Bing-powered personalized news reading app, News Pro.


While the rather grandiose, preceding paragraph may have led you to believe that Rowe is something extraordinary, without further ado — let us tell you that it is not. Although the company is projecting Rowe as a “Bot”, it is actually much more like an assistive search engine whose capacities are further limited by the fact that it is cocooned inside a news application. That said though, the bot appears to be in a very nascent stage as of now and we fully expect Microsoft to build upon Rowe’s capabilities in the future.

On to what Rowe does. In case you have used Microsoft’s news reader — NewsPro, which was launched a few months ago — Rowe is an AI based bot-cum-search-assistant that lets you check out news by typing in a topic. It also lets you view today’s headlines, ask for other personalized suggestions or even read out of a variety of stories the bot has already curated based on your personal preferences.

However, some of the experiences received through the bot are rather peculiar. For example,on searching for “US Election” — which as you are probably aware of, is one of the hottest pieces of news around — the bot surfaced just three articles, with one of them more of a thought-piece than what you would call a news article. Microsoft will probably fix that later, however, the bot seemed to be doing much better when you are more specific about what you want — like “Donald Trump in US elections”.


Also, for reasons that completely evaded my attempts towards understanding them, if you upload a picture of yourself, Rowe surfaces news articles where the person in the story looks like you. While the relevance of such a feature escapes notice, Microsoft may have meant it as a chance to test its bots capabilities or even simply as a fun feature. However, you know what they say about people who are on the news –so be prepared to be either very pleased or pretty annoyed with the comparison Rowe brings up.

Speaking on the latest additions to NewsPro, which also include the ability to make groups to discuss news, Yumao Lu, a principal development manager whose team works on Bing news products, said

Reading news, especially work-related news, can sometimes be a bit dry. A bot that can have some basic conversation with you could make news reading more fun. News Pro bot is your news agent at your beck and call. Try talking to the bot about any news topic on your mind, playing with the assisted keyboard.

The fact that Rowe doesn’t quite seem like the signature, picture-perfect product that would have been produced by Microsoft is because it actually isn’t. NewsPro and Rowe as well, are actually the products of Microsoft’s internal Research & Development incubator, Microsoft Garage. The garage has been known to churn out some pretty cool stuff from time to time, so we hope that Rowe does well too. The bot is still a bit rough around the edges, but given time, it may just prove to be a very handy addition to news lovers.

Meanwhile, the company is not the only one eying the niche as a potentially huge source of future business. I mean come on, you can probably think up of about 50 things that can be done with AI powered bots and chatbots within a few minutes. Facebook, Google, Telegram, Hike etc. are just some of the names that are also  vying to propel development in the field.

Facebook for example, launched its highly anticipated Chatbots for messenger platform recently with the aim of providing developers with the tools to build chat bots for Messenger and chat widgets for the web, that will eventually replace 1800-numbers. Or so it hopes. The company already has an arrangement with Uber — one which it’s hoping to expand soon — where you can book and track rides by chatting with Uber’s official bot.

And Facebook is not the only company foraying into the field either. Google, is very keen upon AI as well and barely a week ago, surprised everyone with the announcement of Allo — An AI based chat application. Within Allo, you can chat with the new assistant directly, ask it questions, or even summon into a group chat to find instant answers and recommendations to your questions. You can also use the assistant for stuff like plane or train schedules, sports scores, recipes,  random search queries etc.

Similarly, Microsoft announced Chatbots for Skype at its build 2016 conference. The company had also introduced a bot for Twitter fairly recently, but had to close it down in a hurry when it suddenly turned a bit too hot for the company to handle. The sector has been receiving a fair bit of attention the country as well with a bunch of AI-driven start-ups mushrooming all over the place. One of the most significant players in the field is Nikki.ai, which recently raised funding from Ratan Tata.

Well, one thing is for sure, bots are going to play a significant role in the upcoming future — whether it is to order products and services, to read news and a whole assortment of other things it would take me too long to type — and it will be up to these tech corporations to come up with the perfect solutions for different situations. Meanwhile, though Rowe, as a bot that is meant to be your one stop answer to news, is a far cry from perfect — it is certainly a start.

A bibliophile and a business enthusiast.

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