When you hear the words “Microsoft online support,” you probably think of an operator waiting to help you with common problems revolving around Windows. There is another kind of online service, though, called Cognitive Services, and Microsoft is pushing to make it part of everyone’s life.
If this sounds familiar, you may have seen a certain James Cameron film where robots take over and attempt to eradicate human life. Terminator 2: Judgment Day, The Matrix, and Enemy of the State have all tackled the rise of Artificial Intelligence and its darker implications. Stephen Hawking has also come out publicly, stating that a scenario similar to the Terminator movies is very likely if we try to make robots sentient.
Technically, Enemy of the State was a closer scenario to what Microsoft is attempting to do, using interconnected devices to search for criminals, as well as other less militant concepts. Hopefully, it doesn’t end up with an innocent man who unknowingly acquired some stolen device being ruined in the effort to retrieve it. If Trump’s national security adviser Michael Flynn turns out as bad as he appeared when former President Barack Obama fired him from a military intelligence role, it could happen.
The Microsoft online support program Cognitive Services, according to the official Microsoft blog, has been making improvements to voice recognition we probably haven’t noticed. Bing has evolved to the point of being able to detect and translate dialects, accents, and even tones of voice in a crowd into relatable text. With the variety of ways we speak these days, languages spanning Asian, Latin, and Russian, varying accents within them, and various speech impediments, it helps close the gaps between cultures. That scene in The Big Bang Theory featuring Barry Kripke (John Ross Bowie) demonstrating the limitations of average voice to text software by trying and failing to use it is a perfect example of what Microsoft has aimed to eliminate.
Mike Seltzer, a principal researcher in the Speech and Dialog Research Group in Redmond, Washington, says that the software being used in Bing, Skype Translator, and Cortana has been developed over more than a decade. The software is expected to have useful applications even in gaming.
The implications could revolutionize games like Mass Effect and other PC MMO titles, translating spoken words directly to text and eliminating the dialogue menu box for a more organic form of human-to-software communication. It might also be helpful for multiplayer titles like the next Call of Duty, relaying spoken words to on-screen text for players not using an earpiece.
Alexander Mejia is attempting to use Microsoft’s technology to allow further immersion with virtual reality devices. His company, Human Interact, seems to be aiming to outdo the Oculus Rift by offering interactive storytelling experiences and bringing more action-heavy games to the virtual reality genre. A possible scenario might include a World War II-based FPS where you order your soldiers to do various things, possibly ranging from stealthy guerrilla combat to all-out run-and-gun.
The more practical applications might disturb people who feel that the NSA is already too invasive in our lives. One includes using cameras of all kinds to extract information about people for the sake of learning. There is already years’ worth of information recorded every day through surveillance cameras, as well as smartphones and the like. Prism is one such application, using video footage to help shoppers find what they’re looking for.
The recent Vizio lawsuit, for example, centered around the TV manufacturer using internet-connected TVs to collect viewing information on their consumers, as reported by the Wall Street Journal. They stated that they didn’t collect things like personal information as much as simply what people were watching, a tactic similar to what Facebook and Google do every day to target marketing tactics. This is why, when you visit sites like Weather.com, your browsing device automatically knows where you are. Your ISP tells websites where you live.
Microsoft’s online support through Cognitive Services could easily go very wrong, but the positive aspects may prove to make law enforcement more efficient, shopping easier, and video games even more immersive. It might even find its way into self-driving cars, helping you control the vehicle without using your hands or feet.
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