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Getting Hands-On with Bots and AI at Microsoft Reactor

If you saw any of Microsoft Ignite 2018 you will know that bots and AI are a big focus in the world of software development. I recently took part in the UK Tech Communities (UKCT) Bots and AI Hackathon at Microsoft Reactor in London, which was an opportunity to hear from experts on AI and the Bot Framework and then work in groups to meet a solution building challenge.

What did we learn?

The presentations in the morning covered a range of topics but started with a very interesting talk from Microsoft’s Michael Robson (@mrobson1975) on Ethics in AI, reminding us that it is our responsibility as developers and technology implementers to ensure that we consider the impacts of the solutions we create. It is right that Microsoft is emphasising this and encouraging developers to keep thinking, not just mindlessly pushing ahead. Whilst this may not exactly guarantee that The Terminator does not come true, it does help to do what we can to avoid it!

Experts like Bill Ayers (@SPDoctor), Gosia Borzecka (@GosiaBorzecka), Mark Stokes (@MarkStokes) and Stephan Bisser (@cloudguy_pro) spoke on Cognitive Services and the Bot Framework, keeping us all engaged before introducing us to the challenge for the Hackathon itself.

Learning by doing

The challenge was to create a Bot from scratch using the Bot Framework to pull information from an FAQ to act as an IT helper. Ultimately, each of the teams – composed of a range of people, from developers to power users and systems analysts – were able to get something working.

In getting hands-on with the technology each of us learned something from the event; whether it was the technical detail of using Dispatches in the Bot Framework, how to pull FAQs from a SharePoint list to a Bot, or the benefits of using the Language Understanding service to understand intents and entities from natural language.

Interestingly, many of the Bots shown had been tailored for the attendee’s organisation or clients in mind, which goes to show we were already applying thoughts into reality. Microsoft had advocates and specialists to answer questions and engage with us all, meaning it was not just a case of learning at the pace of a presentation but learning at our own pace too.

I came back home energised and bubbling with ideas on how I could apply my increased understanding of the Bots and AI technology. If you are interested in trying out a hackathon, sign up for the UKCT mailing list and get along to an event, or keep an eye on the Microsoft Reactor London website.

By Kevin McDonnell, Senior Technical Architect at Ballard Chalmers


About the author

Kevin McDonnell is a respected Senior Technical Architect at Ballard Chalmers. With a Master of Engineering (MEng), Engineering Science degree from the University of Oxford he specialises in .NET & Azure development and has a broad understanding of the wider Microsoft stack. He listens to what clients are looking to achieve and helps identify the best platform and solution to deliver on that. Kevin regularly blogs on Digital Workplace topics and is a regular contributor to the monthly #CollabTalk discussions on Twitter.

 


 

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