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Microsoft acquires Semantic Machines in conversational AI push

Microsoft acquires Semantic Machines in conversational AI push

Semantic Machines has quickly built a name for itself developing new approaches to building conversational AI

Credit: Dreamstime

Microsoft is set to establish a conversational artificial intelligence (AI) centre of excellence in California after its acquisition of Berkeley start-up Semantic Machines.   

Founded in 2014, Semantic Machines has quickly built a name for itself developing new approaches to building conversational AI.

According to Microsoft’s AI and research chief technology officer David Ku, the company’s work uses the power of machine learning to enable users to discover, access and interact with information and services in a more natural way, and with less effort.

The start-up’s team is comprised of researchers, engineers and entrepreneurs with substantial track records in AI development, with some members, including former Apple chief speech scientist Larry Gillick, among those who helped build core AI technology for Siri and Google Now.

For Ku, the acquisition is set to give Microsoft greater strength when it comes to developing new AI technology for language interfaces that can better handle natural language interactions.

“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,” Ku said in a blog post.

“We are further developing our work in conversational AI with our digital assistant Cortana, as well as with social chatbots like XiaoIce. XiaoIce has had more than 30 billion conversations, averaging up to 30 minutes each, with 200 million users across platforms in China, Japan, the United States, India and Indonesia.

“With the acquisition of Semantic Machines, we will establish a conversational AI centre of excellence in Berkeley to push forward the boundaries of what is possible in language interfaces,” he said.

Combining Semantic Machines’ technology with Microsoft’s own AI advances sees the company aim to deliver powerful, natural and more productive user experiences that are hoped to take conversational computing to a new level.

The deal sees Microsoft bring the existing Semantic Machines team and their technology into the fold.

The acquisition comes just weeks after Microsoft said it would invest US$25 million into a five-year program aimed at giving developers the AI tools to build intelligent solutions to benefit people with disabilities.


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