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Microsoft Has a Scheme for Getting More Bots to Run on Its Cloud

Microsoft said Tuesday that a forthcoming Azure cloud service will help developers build and deploy bots or chatbots easily. Bots, a hot, much-hyped topic of late, are pieces of software that work under the covers to let consumers perform tasks, such as ordering pizza, using their favorite chat or texting app.

Microsoft’s Azure Bot Service, now in preview, builds on the company’s previously disclosed Bot Framework, which aims to support all the popular chat and texting applications in the universe.

“This is a full application, a managed platform that does all you need to host a bot,” Microsoft executive vice president Scott Guthrie told Fortune.

The service relies on the newly available Azure Functions, which like the Lambda service from Microsoft (MSFT) rival Amazon Web Services, lets developers quickly build in capabilities that are triggered by a user action or some sort of software trigger or event. There are tons of uses for such capabilities in the connected world of devices, the so-called Internet of things.

For example, an Internet-connected button could be programmed to order milk or a ride from point A to point B. Microsoft and Amazon are vying to ensure that their cloud services are the ones facilitating those deceptively simple actions.

Developers can use Microsoft’s new service to build bots, basically, at no cost, the Guthrie said. “You can stand up a bot endpoint, we do all the challenging integration so you can publish through Facebook (FB), Google, Slack, Microsoft Teams, Skype and you can use any programming language,” Guthrie said.

So basically developers can use whatever tool set or software development language they want, provided they commit to using Microsoft Azure to run the backend operations. Charges only apply when the bot is used.

Bots are a hot topic in an age of app overload. Why have different apps from Dunkin Donuts, Starbucks, Peets and every company in the caffeine-supplier universe if you can use an existing messaging app like Facebook (FB) Messenger to order from any of the above? Fewer downloads, less complexity, less app exhaustion is the selling point for those developing bot services.

Microsoft, like public cloud leader Amazon (AMZN) and rival Google (GOOG), wants to make its cloud the home base for software developers. And within software generally, artificial intelligence is a key focus of its effort. Towards that end, Microsoft also said that OpenAI, a non-profit research organization, will use Azure as its “primary” cloud provider. OpenAI is

Towards that end, Microsoft also said that OpenAI, a non-profit research organization, will use Azure as its “primary” cloud provider. OpenAI is backed by big name techies including Elon Musk; Y Combinator president Sam Altman; LinkedIn (LNKD) co-founder Reid Hoffman; and investor Peter Thiel. It aims to foster the safe use of artificial intelligence.

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OpenAI is using Azure’s Nvidia N-Series graphics processing units (GPUs), which will be made available to all customers starting in December.

As the name implies, GPUs are specialized chips that are particularly adept at handling compute-intensive graphical workloads like visualizations and simulations. They are well suited for handling neural networks, a particularly complicated form of AI that tries to solve problems by mimicking the human brain.

An OpenAI spokesman confirmed that the “vast majority” of its AI and deep learning workloads are moving to Azure, but this is not an exclusive arrangement. The organization will continue to explore other cloud services on an “as-needed basis.”