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Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. (GeekWire File Photo)
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. (GeekWire File Photo)

SAN FRANCISCO — Bloomberg Businessweek’s new cover story offers a preview of what will be a major theme of Microsoft’s Build developer conference here this morning: artificial intelligence, and specifically intelligent bots that can order pizza, help the visually impaired see the world around them, and hopefully not learn to be racist in the future.

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Bloomberg Businessweek’s cover on Microsoft’s new chatbot strategy.

But it’s not just a theme for the conference; it’s a new strategy for the company more broadly. The article, by longtime Microsoft beat reporter Dina Bass, goes behind the scenes at the company to report on CEO Satya Nadella’s vision for what he describes as “Conversation as a Platform” — referring to conversation between humans and AI agents, or bots.

The company will use the Build keynote this morning to demonstrate early versions of this technology, and position its developer tools and cloud services as a means for companies to create their own bots.

Bloomberg Businessweek’s article also delves into the recent aftermath of Tay.ai, the millennial chatbot that was pulled offline by the company after the Internet taught it to be racist. Nadella emailed the team behind the project after the incident to tell them to “keep pushing,” according to the article.

Bass also reports on the origins of the “Conversation as a Platform” strategy.

Nadella has only been planning Microsoft’s strategy shift since October. He was on a two-hour flight back to Seattle from Silicon Valley with Qi Lu, who oversees applications and services such as Bing, Skype, and Office, and Derrick Connell, search-engineering vice president. Lu pulled out his laptop to show Nadella some AI ideas he’d been working on. He went over the science, and Nadella asked what it could mean for Microsoft’s products. Connell showed him designs for new, AI-enhanced versions of the Outlook e-mail program and Skype. By the time the plane landed, Nadella decided it was the big strategic move the company needed.

The strategy grew in part out of Lu’s visit to China last year, where he saw the rise of chatbots as an outgrowth of apps including WeChat. Read the full Bloomberg Businessweek cover story here.

Stay tuned to GeekWire for live coverage from Microsoft Build starting this morning.

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