In 2014, hot on the heels of launching Cortana, Microsoft also launched a chatbot for the Chinese market, which was known as Xiaoice. It also served as something of a personal assistant, but with more personality, with the ability to express humor and empathy as well. Today, the company announced (via TechCrunch), that the chatbot is getting spun off into its own company.
The goal with spinning off the chatbot is to allow it to grow more quickly, with a greater focus on innovation specific for the market. Xiaoice will also attempt to build out a "commercial ecosystem". While it was originally a China-only product, Xiaoice has expanded to Japan, under the name Rinna, and Indonesia, and the goal is to keep investing in those markets.
The new company counts some big names among its ranks, including Lu Qi, former chief operating officer of Baidu, who also worked in AI for Microsoft; Jing Kun, who helped launch Xiaoice in the first place: and Harry Shum, who was the head of Microsoft's AI & Research division until last November. Shum will serve as chairman for the new Xiaoice company.
In late 2018, Microsoft revealed that the chatbot had 660 million users and it has some unique functionality, such as being able to design its own images. Microsoft will maintain its stakes in the new company, and Xiaoice will in turn use Microsoft-licensed technology to further develop the chatbot.