AI-powered assistants and chatbots may be smart about the things they know (which they Google for) or can control (by sending hubs to do the work). They are, however, not so smart when holding a conversation. Talking to one is more like a Q&A interrogation rather than talking to someone really smart. Microsoft’s XiaoIce, however, might be able to fool you. Microsoft’s researchers and engineers are proudly boasting how the chatbot has reached the next level of intelligence by gaining full duplex capabilities.
“Full duplex” is a term in telecommunications that describes communication that happens in both directions at the same time. It’s pretty much like two people talking at the same time during a call. Almost all chatbots today use only half duplex communication, which is compared to an alternating walkie-talkie conversation.
Of course, it’s not enough that you and a chatbot talk at the same time to qualify for full duplex. The conversation also has to actually make some sense. In this particular context, it means that XiaoIce is able to quickly predict what the human on the other end will say and maybe preempt or complete the statement itself. At the very least, it would be able to immediately respond rather than making the other (real) person wait in silence for the computer to formulate a response.
The development also does away with the problem of relying on a trigger word or phrase to make the chatbot or AI assistant listen. While OK for starting a conversation, it becomes not only awkward but also tedious to have to repeat the same word over and over again in the middle of a conversation.
XiaoIce has already gained a couple of abilities that try to mimic human behavior, like changing topics or interrupting a conversation and having it return to the original topic. Microsoft engineers are already working to apply this “full duplex voice sense” feature to the company’s other chatbots, like the US-based Zo. It is, however, being confined to chatbots for now, so don’t expect Cortana to become chatty all of a sudden.