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Microsoft introduces Zo, a new "social chatbot"

Move over Cortana — Microsoft has unveiled another chatty artificial intelligence option. The tech company welcomed Zo, a new “social chatbot,” in an early preview version to users of the messaging app Kik. 

Zo follows in the footsteps of Xiaoice and Rinna, which are similar Microsoft bots offered in China and Japan, respectively.

In the future, Zo will be expanding wider, to Facebook Messenger and Skype. Now, beyond having an AI helper in the form of Cortana, Microsoft aims to bring its technology to a broader range of uses.

“Zo is built using the vast social content of the Internet. She learns from human interactions to respond emotionally and intelligently, providing a unique viewpoint, along with manners and emotional expressions. But she also has strong checks and balances in place to protect her from exploitation,” Microsoft wrote on its website. 

Microsoft certainly a complicated history with chatbots. Last March, the company launched Tay, an AI chatbot that was meant to grow in conversational understanding the longer it interacted with humans on Twitter. It “learned” new information whenever people tweeted at the bot on Twitter. Unfortunately, trolls took advantage of the opportunity to teach Tay some outrageous and hateful language. Microsoft had to shut down the bot once it started tweeting out highly offensive racist and lewd messages.

Right now, those Kik users who already downloaded Zo found that the chatbot is restricted in what it can discuss so that it avoids the fate of Tay. One topic of conversation that it won’t venture into is politics, CNET reports.

So far, Zo has already conducted conversations with more than 100,000 people in the U.S. Quite the talker, Zo has had conversations that have gone over an hour long with over 5,000 users, according to Microsoft.

Microsoft has yet to state specifically when it will expand Zo to other apps beyond Kik.

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