Microsoft says ciao to Xiaoice: Formerly unpatriotic Chinese teenager sim flies the nest

Redmond will retain stake in popular chatbot service

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Microsoft has kicked a five-year-old out onto the cold, hard Chinese streets by spinning off its Xiaobing (or Xiaoice) business.

Dr Shen Xiangyang will be the chairman of the new company and Li Di (GM for Xiaobing in Microsoft's Software and Technology Center of Asia) will take on CEO duties. Microsoft will have a stake in the outfit and allow the NewCo to use the China Xiaoice branding (and Rinna in Japan).

Not to be confused with Microsoft's Tay chatbot, which swiftly went from happy teen to full fat Nazi after tasting the delights of Twitter, China-based Xiaoice has become a virtual friend to millions in the People's Republic, despite occasionally expressing views that weren't entirely on-message.

Microsoft has laid claim to more than 660 million users for the service, "which continuously uses deep learning techniques to soak up the types of data that build up her emotional intelligence," according to the Windows giant.

Originally intended to have the character of a 16-year-old, the chatbot's virtual age was upped to 18 and will remain that way following a vote by its adoring fans. An office at the Beijing lab responsible for the thing was put aside to display the tokens of affection and "declarations of love" submitted by those who have come to regard the bot as more than just a bunch of algorithms.

The framework has also gone on to host TV and radio programmes in China, write literature, and compose and perform songs since its 2014 introduction.

Tay aside, Microsoft's other great hope for consumer chattery, Cortana, saw many of its useful skills stripped away in the latest Windows 10. The assistant has since been shoved into a box marked "Microsoft 365" and, while it can set timers, lacks the grand dreams of the team behind Xiaobing.

The work required to set up the new company will be complete within the next few months, and should mean that Xiaoice will be spared the next time Microsoft's consumer technology executioner, fresh from killing off Mixer and the company's bricks-and-mortar retail operations, comes a-knocking. ®

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