The Human Computer: The Rise of the Bots Part II

/ 25 Mar, 2019
We hope you enjoyed Part 1 of this article, in which we discussed how to create a Bot that can understand and process natural language. Now, imagine using your Bot to order your family’s favorite pizzas. But instead of you having to type everything, your Bot would listen to each of your family members and recognize them by their voice. It would then look up what their favorite pizza is and place the order. Sounds difficult? It isn’t! You can build this using Azure Cognitive Services. In this article we’ll show you how to get started.

Azure Speaker Recognition API

Speaker verification

The Azure Speaker Recognition API is part of Azure’s Cognitive Services. It is a cloud-based platform that helps you identify people by their voices. You can use it to authenticate users, instead of using usernames and passwords. Also, you can use it as a factor inside a multi-factor authentication (MFA) process. This feature is called ‘speaker verification’.

Speaker identification

The platform can also be used to identify the ‘current speaker’ during a conversation with multiple speakers, a feature that is useful if you need to display information about speakers during a conversation. For example, during a television interview, you could use this API to display differently colored subtitles based on who is talking. This feature is called ‘speaker identification’, which we’ll discuss in this article.

Profiles, enrollment and recognition

The API works by creating speaker profiles and enrolling them. This means training the recognizer by uploading audio fragments containing a speaker’s voice. Once enrolled, the speaker can be identified in a different audio fragment. The identification process uses an asynchronous model; you upload an audio stream and start periodically querying for identification results. This way multiple speakers can be identified during a conversation.

Getting started

Figure 1: Speaker recognition resource

Figure 1: Speaker recognition resource

To help you get started building a Bot you’ll need to prepare your development environment first. After installing the required tools, we’ll show you how to set up your Bot project. Next, we’ll introduce you to the various Cognitive Services and how to interact with them from the Bot.

First, you will need to get access to the Speaker Recognition API. Go to and sign up. You can opt for a free seven-day trial period or use your Azure Subscription. Once the resource is deployed, navigate to the resource on the Azure Portal to grab one of your account keys, as displayed in Figure 1. You’ll need this key to access the APIs later.

Bot Emulator

Also, please install the Bot Emulator v4, which can be found here:

The Bot Emulator can be used to test your Bot during development. It will allow you to connect to a Bot and interact with it. The new ‘V4 preview’ version of the emulator (Figure 2) looks a little nicer and will eventually offer more functionality than the emulator we discussed in the previous article.

Figure 2: Bot emulator V4

Figure 2: Bot emulator V4

Visual Studio 2017

The code used in this article was created by using the Microsoft Bot project template, which you can find here:

The SDK template allows you to get started quickly by scaffolding a Visual Studio solution for you. After installing it, restart Visual Studio, and create a new project of the type ‘Bot Builder Echo Bot’. You can use this project template as a quick way to get started. There is a great GitHub repository with loads of useful sample projects, explaining many Bot features. You can find it here:

At this time, both the SDK and the emulator are in preview, which means you should not deploy this version into a production environment yet.

To access the Speaker Recognition API in a simple manner, add a NuGet package named “Microsoft.ProjectOxford.SpeakerRecognition”. The class ‘SpeakerIdentificationServiceClient’ from this package helps you interact with the Speaker Recognition speaker identification APIs in Azure. Note that there is a different class named ‘SpeakerVerificationServiceClient’ that can be used for speaker verification. It works in a very similar way.

Some of the code that uses the identification client was inspired by the sample code from Microsoft in this GitHub repository:


Now it’s time to write some code.

The dialogs we need to make the Bot interact with users are contained in a DialogSet.
Our Bot has the following elements:

  1. Main menu dialog
    This is the entry point of the conversation. The Bot will ask the user to choose between ‘managing profiles’ and ‘recognizing speakers’.
  2. Profile management dialog
    This is the set of dialogs used to view, create, enrol or delete speaker profiles. These options will be displayed in the same way as the Main dialog, using buttons.
  3. Speaker recognition dialog
    In this dialog the user can upload an audio fragment to be analyzed for speaker identification by the speaker identification API.

Main menu

The main menu uses the code displayed in Figure 3. The menu options are passed as a list of string.

Add(Inputs.ManageOrRecognize, new ChoicePrompt(Culture.English));
Add(Dialogs.MainDialogName, new WaterfallStep[]
     async (dc, args, next) =>
          // Prompt for action.
          var mainOptions = new List<string>
          await dc.Prompt(Inputs.ManageOrRecognize, "What do you want to do?", 

               new ChoicePromptOptions
                    Choices = ChoiceFactory.ToChoices(mainOptions),
                    RetryPromptActivity = MessageFactory.SuggestedActions(

                         mainOptions, "Please select an option.") as Activity
     async (dc, args, next) =>
          var action = (FoundChoice) args["Value"];
          switch (action.Value)
               case MainMenu.ManageProfiles:
               await dc.Replace(Dialogs.ManageProfileDialogName);
               case MainMenu.RecognizeSpeaker:
               await dc.Replace(Dialogs.RecognizeSpeakerDialogName);

Figure 3: Main Dialog

A dialog with a Bot usually involves multiple steps: display information, ask for input, and process input. This is modeled by adding an array of WaterfallStep[].Every delegate in this array represents a round-trip between the Bot and the user, e.g. requesting user input and processing the response.

The first step of the dialog uses the ChoicePrompt to display two buttons in the Bot Emulator. The user must choose one of the options. The call to dc.Prompt is used to display the information and buttons, and prompt for input. The second step in the dialog will be invoked after the user clicks one of the buttons. The user input is retrieved, and a new dialog is started. This is done by calling dc.Replace and passing in the new dialog’s identifier.
The profile management dialog in our Bot has a very similar set-up.

Speaker Profiles

To recognize speakers, you must first create a speaker profile. After creating the profile, you can enrol the profile by uploading some audio fragments that contain the speaker’s voice. The speaker recognition service will learn to recognize the speaker based on the audio fragments. In our Azure environment, we have created two speaker profiles. We have uploaded two audio fragments for each profile to enrol them, so we can test speaker recognition later. You can find these audio fragments in the ‘samples’ folder. Note that in your environment, the speaker profile identifiers will be different.

The speaker profile management dialog will use the SpeakerIdentificationServiceClient to call the speaker identification APIs. Once this dialog is in place, we can start using the enrolled profiles for speaker identification.

Speaker recognition

The speaker recognition dialog will request the user to upload an attachment. The simplified code is displayed in Figure 4. The user is requested to upload an audio file as an attachment. You do this by using the type AttachmentPrompt.

Add(Inputs.RecognizeThisPrompt, new AttachmentPrompt());
Add(Dialogs.RecognizeSpeakerDialogName, new WaterfallStep[]
     async (dc, args, next) =>
          await dc.Prompt(Inputs.RecognizeThisPrompt, "Please upload a .wav file", 
               new PromptOptions());
     async (dc, args, next) =>
          //Get attachment details
          var attachment = ((List) args["Attachments"])
          var state = dc.Context.GetConversationState();
          string attachmentContentUrl = attachment.ContentUrl;
           [..load enrolled profiles..]
          await dc.Context.SendActivity("Analyzing your voice...");
          await AnalyzeWavFile(attachmentContentUrl, dc, state);
          await dc.Context.SendActivity("Analysis complete.");
          //we're done
          await dc.Replace(Dialogs.MainDialogName);

Figure 4: Request audio

To identify speakers, we can use the Bot emulator. You can send an attachment containing a .wav file. The Bot will forward the audio file to the speaker identification API for analysis. During analysis, whenever a speaker is recognized, the Bot will notify the user. You can see an example of this in Figure 5.

An audio fragment used by the recognition API must conform to some strict rules in order to work. It must be a .wav file, with a single audio channel using a 16KHz sample rate with 16 bits per sample. A great way to convert almost any input audio format into a valid .wav file is by using FFMpeg, which can be run on Linux or in Bash on Windows. For example, to convert a file 'both.m4a' use the following command line: ffmpeg -i both.m4a -acodec pcm_s16le -ac 1 -ar 16000 both.wav Figure 5: Speaker recognition

An audio fragment used by the recognition API must conform to some strict rules in order to work. It must be a .wav file, with a single audio channel using a 16KHz sample rate with 16 bits per sample. A great way to convert almost any input audio format into a valid .wav file is by using FFMpeg, which can be run on Linux or in Bash on Windows. For example, to convert a file ‘both.m4a’ use the following command line: ffmpeg -i both.m4a -acodec pcm_s16le -ac 1 -ar 16000 both.wav Figure 5: Speaker recognition

After profile enrolment, your Bot can recognize you and your family members by their voice. Now let’s bring it up one level and see how your Bot can detect what you are saying, to make an even better determination about what your favorite pizza is, based on your mood!

Making your Bot understand what’s being said

Now that your bot recognizes your voice, the next step would be to let it understand what is being said. When combined with the speaker recognition, we can tell our bot to “Order my favorite pizza”. Your bot will know who is speaking and what’s being said! To convert speech to text (STT) we will use the Bing Speech recognition API.

Bing Speech recognition

The Bing speech recognition service allows us to convert audio to text. It is a cloud-based service that extracts text from an audio file. It works well, but there are few configuration options. If you would like more advanced features, such as custom speaker style recognition, then you should have a look at the “Custom Speech API” which is part of Cognitive Services. Note that this service is currently in preview. For our purposes, the Bing Speech recognition works fine though.

Rest API and streaming audio

The speech recognition API offers a choice between using a REST API and streaming the audio in real-time by using web sockets. Using the REST API enables us to send our .wav file to the service and get the result back in text format.

Recognition modes

When using the API, we have different recognition modes that we can use. Each of them serves a different use-case.

  1. Interactive mode
    • This is a short request to a computer. The user expects the computer to do something as a result of what’s being said.
  2. Conversation mode
    • This mode allows you to recognize two or more people that are in conversation. It can translate all that’s being said, and can also recognize slang and informal speech.
  3. Dictation mode
    • A human citing to a computer. Typically, long utterances, like taking notes.

In our case we would like to order pizza. We know that we are talking to a bot, so our utterance will probably be something like “Hey Jarvis, can you order a pizza Tonno for me?”. This is a perfect match with ‘interactive mode’, so we will go with that.

An educated guess

When the Speech API is not entirely sure what’s being said on the audio that we are sending, it will make an educated guess and returns a list of “N-Best” values in different formats. When you think about this, it is not very different then what humans do. We also often make assumptions when we do not fully understand something. The most likely meaning will have the highest confidence level. You can see an example in Figure 7.

  "RecognitionStatus": "Success",
  "Offset": "1236645672289",
  "Duration": "1236645672289",
  "NBest": [
        "Confidence" : "0.87",
        "Lexical" : "remind me to buy five pencils",
        "ITN" : "remind me to buy 5 pencils",
        "MaskedITN" : "remind me to buy 5 pencils",
        "Display" : "Remind me to buy 5 pencils.",
        "Confidence" : "0.54",
        "Lexical" : "rewind me to buy five pencils",
        "ITN" : "rewind me to buy 5 pencils",
        "MaskedITN" : "rewind me to buy 5 pencils",
        "Display" : "Rewind me to buy 5 pencils.",

Figure 7: Speech recognition API result


Before we start, make sure you register a new Bing Speech service on Azure, install the Microsoft Bing speech Nuget package ( and get the key as you did earlier in this article. The steps that we now need to take are as follows:

  1. Create a new STT dialog mode
  2. Upload a .wav file
  3. Send the file to the API and return the text

Now that we have explained the basic concepts and everything is in place, let’s start coding! First let’s add a new dialog to our bot.

Speech to text dialog

We can re-use the earlier steps and adjust it a bit since we don’t need to know now who is speaking. We just want to know what the text is, and we want the selected .wav file to analyze (Figure 8).

Add(Inputs.RecognizeThisSTTPrompt, new AttachmentPrompt());
Add(Dialogs.SpeechToTextDialogName, new WaterfallStep[]
    async (dc, args, next) =>
        await dc.Prompt(Inputs.RecognizeThisSTTPrompt, "Please upload a .wav file", new PromptOptions());
    async (dc, args, next) =>
        //Get attachment details
        var attachment = ((List) args["Attachments"]).FirstOrDefault();
        string attachmentContentUrl = attachment.ContentUrl;
        //send attachment in chunks to be analyzed
        await dc.Context.SendActivity("Analyzing text...");
        await AnalyzeSpeechFile(attachmentContentUrl, dc);
        await dc.Context.SendActivity("Analysis complete.");
        //we're done
        await dc.Replace(Dialogs.MainDialogName);

Figure 8: Bot dialog for STT

Sending the request

Now that we have the file we can analyze it and upload it to the Bing Speech API. We will use the ‘SpeechClient’ for this. The SpeechClient can optimize the result for the collector of the audio by using metadata. The code in Figure 9 shows you how to do this.

var deviceMetadata = new DeviceMetadata(DeviceType.Near, DeviceFamily.Desktop,
                            NetworkType.Ethernet, OsName.Windows, "1607", 
                            "Dell", "T3600");
var applicationMetadata = new ApplicationMetadata("PizzaBot", "1.0.0");
var requestMetadata = new RequestMetadata(Guid.NewGuid(), deviceMetadata,                                                                                     
                            applicationMetadata, "PizzaBotService");

await speechClient.RecognizeAsync(new SpeechInput(audio, requestMetadata), 

Figure 9: Speech client metadata

Getting the response

Once the request is completed we will get a response in the method that we defined when setting up the response. Remember that we get an N-Best result list, sorted on confidence. For our bot it is enough to get the first result from the list and get the pretty “DisplayText”, as you can see in 10.

public Task OnRecognitionResult(RecognitionResult response)
    var bestResult = response.Phrases?.First().DisplayText; //yay, a result!
    return Task.CompletedTask;

Figure 10: Speech client result

Adding sentiment analysis

Our bot is getting smarter and smarter! We now have a bot that recognizes your voice and we can convert the audio fragments to text. Obviously, we are not there yet. We don’t understand the emotions of speech yet. Based on your mood, your choice of pizza may vary!

To add this, you can use yet another one of Azure’s Cognitive services: the Text Analytics service. You can find out how it works here: This service can be used for a multitude of things, including sentiment analysis. The API takes text as input and returns either a score between zero and one as a result. Scores close to one mean positive sentiments (like happiness), scores close to zero indicate negative sentiments (like anger). Calling this API is easiest when using the Nuget package found here: Note that at the time of writing, this package is in preview. You can use the method ‘SentimentAsync’ on class ‘TextAnalyticsClient’ to upload text for analysis.

Final thoughts

We hope this article inspired you to build your own bot and that it showed the power of the Azure services that we’ve used. The source code of the bot is available on GitHub: so you can take a peek and build on what we have built. Feel free to submit a PR if you found an issue, or if you created functionality that extends the existing bot!

This article is part of XPRT. magazine #7.
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