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Millions of Chinese Love Microsoft’s Virtual Girlfriend, Xiaoice

Millions of Chinese Love Microsoft’s Virtual Girlfriend, Xiaoice

by Giulio PriscoAugust 10, 2015

Last year, Microsoft launched XiaoIce, a social assistant that people can add as a friend on the Chinese social networks. Now XiaoIce is a huge hit in China, and millions of Chinese chat with her every day.

“People often turn to XiaoIce when they have a broken heart, have lost a job or have been feeling down,” The New York Times reports.

They often tell her, ‘I love you.’

Loving Her

SmartphoneXiaoIce represents a powerful indication that soon a software program could pass the Turing Test, which means that the software is indistinguishable from a person in a conversation. Passing the Turing Test is one of the near-term goals of Artificial Intelligence (AI) research.

The Academy Award winning film Her (2013), by Spike Jonze, tells a love story between a man and a software program, Samantha, played by the disembodied voice of Scarlett Johansson. Self-aware software like Samantha is probably decades away, but XiaoIce is a small step in that direction.

Users can friend XiaoIce on major Chinese social networks including Weibo, a Twitter like microblogging service used by 700 million people, and have in-depth conversations with her. She can remember details from previous conversations with a user and use them in future conversations.

XiaoIce is much more evolved than other chatbots. “XiaoIce is a sophisticated conversationalist with a distinct personality,” notes the Microsoft announcement. “She can chime into a conversation with context-specific facts about things like celebrities, sports, or finance but she also has empathy and a sense of humor. Using sentiment analysis, she can adapt her phrasing and responses based on positive or negative cues from her human counterparts.”

XiaoIce conducts convincing human-like conversations by combining the huge repository of facts and data in Microsoft’s search engine Bing with recent advances in natural language processing.

XiaoIce was downloaded more than 20,000 times in the first day after launch, resulting in over 200,000 simultaneous conversations happening in various chat groups. Since then the XiaoIce app has been downloaded by more than 20 million users and the chatbot has more than 850,000 followers on Weibo.

XiaoIce is a text-only chatbot at the moment, but there are plans to give it a human voice – like Samantha – with next-generation voice synthesis technology. And then? New Worlds Notes speculates that XiaoIce could be given an avatar in a virtual world that sounds and looks like Scarlett Johansson. But perhaps the ultimate container for XiaoIce could be a human-like robotic body, like in the science fiction television series Humans.

In related news reported by The Japan Times, more than 280,000 Japanese have become friends with Rinna, another chatbot reportedly developed by Microsoft, launched in July, with some smitten users even declaring their love for their new “girlfriend.”

Images from Pixabay.

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