Microsoft acquires conversational AI startup

Microsoft acquires conversational AI startup

Business news |
By Wisse Hettinga

“Conversational AI” offers the possibility of intelligent digital assistants that can communicate with people using natural dialogue instead of just being able to respond to commands. Semantic Machines’ approach to building conversational AI, says Microsoft, uses machine learning to enable users to discover, access, and interact with information and services in a much more natural way, and with significantly less effort.

The company’s team includes pioneers in conversational AI such as technology entrepreneur Dan Roth and natural language AI researchers UC Berkeley professor Dan Klein and Stanford University professor Percy Liang, as well as former Apple chief speech scientist Larry Gillick. Its Conversational AI technology, says the company, “represents a powerful new paradigm, enabling computers to communicate, collaborate, understand our goals, and accomplish tasks.”

Microsoft has been involved in related research – such as speech recognition and natural language understanding – for more than two decades, with the goal of a world where computers “could see, hear, talk, and understand as humans.” In 2016, the company introduced a framework for developing bots and released a pre-built Cognitive Services for infusing speech recognition and natural language understanding into intelligent assistants.

“Today, there are more than one million developers using our Microsoft Cognitive Services and more than 300,000 developers using our Azure Bot Service, all helping to make computing more conversational,” says David Ku – CVP and chief technology officer of Microsoft AI & Research. “We are further developing our work in conversational AI with our digital assistant Cortana, as well as with social chatbots like XiaoIce.”

“With the acquisition of Semantic Machines,” says Ku, “we will establish a conversational AI center of excellence in Berkeley to push forward the boundaries of what is possible in language interfaces. Combining Semantic Machines’ technology with Microsoft’s own AI advances, we aim to deliver powerful, natural and more productive user experiences that will take conversational computing to a new level.”

Financial details of the acquisition were not disclosed.

Semantic Machines

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