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Microsoft Acquires Semantic Machines to Improve Conversational AI


Microsoft has acquired Semantic Machines Inc., a Berkeley, California-based company with an approach for building conversational AI.  It uses the power of machine learning to enable users to discover, access, and interact with information and services.

The purchase was announced in a blog post by David Ku, CVP and chief technology officer of Microsoft AI & Research.

The company is led by many technology entrepreneur Dan Roth, natural language AI researchers in the world, UC Berkeley professor Dan Klein and Stanford University professor Percy Liang, and former Apple chief speech scientist Larry Gillick.

According to Ku, Microsoft has been driving research and breakthroughs in the fundamental building blocks of conversational AI, such as speech recognition and natural language understanding, for more than two decades with the goal of expanding its vision of computers all around us to a world where they could see, hear talk and understand as humans. In 2016, he said, the company took another step toward realizing this vision of conversational computing with the introduction of a framework for developing bots and the release of pre-built Cognitive Services for infusing speech recognition and natural language understanding into intelligent assistants. The result, he noted, is that there are more than 1 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.

The work in conversational AI is further being developed with Microsoft’s digital assistant Cortana, as well as with social chatbots like XiaoIce.

"AI researchers have made great strides in recent years, but we are still at the beginning of teaching computers to understand the full context of human communication. Most of today’s bots and intelligent assistants respond to simple commands and queries, such as giving a weather report, playing a song or sharing a reminder, but aren’t able to understand meaning or carry on conversations. For rich and effective communication, intelligent assistants need to be able to have a natural dialogue instead of just responding to commands. We call this 'conversational AI,'" said Ku.

With the acquisition of Semantic Machines, Microsoft plans to establish a conversational AI center of excellence in Berkeley to advance 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,” Ku said.

For more information on Semantic Machines, visit www.semanticmachines.com.


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