Microsoft has acquired US-based start-up Semantic Machines so it can create conversational artificial intelligence (AI) offerings that will enable users to communicate more naturally with computers, chatbots and virtual assistants.
Based in Berkley, California, Semantic Machines is led by technology entrepreneur Dan Roth, Apple’s former chief speech scientist Larry Gillick, and prominent natural language AI researchers Dan Kilen, a professor at UC Berkeley, and Stanford University professor Percy Liang.
The start-up uses speech recognition, natural language processing and machine learning technologies to add context to conversations with AI-powered chatbots and intelligent assistants so they can understand more than the simple commands and carry on natural conversations with human users.
Microsoft will also use the Semantic Machines acquisition to build a new conversational AI centre for excellence in Berkley to ‘push forward the boundaries of what is possible’ in language interfaces. The centre will work with teams that are leading Microsoft’s other conversational AI initiatives, such as the Cortana Research division, Cortana Intelligence Institute at Melbourne’s RMIT University in Australia, and the Microsoft AI and Research Group in Redmond, Washington. This will help Microsoft build on advances it has made with Microsoft Azure Bot Service, Microsoft Cognitive Services, digital assistant Cortana, and social chatbots like XiaoIce.
“Microsoft has driven research and breakthroughs in the fundamental building blocks of conversational AI, such as speech recognition and natural language understanding, for more than two decades,” said David Ku, corporate vice president and chief technology officer of Microsoft AI and Research, in a blog post. “The goal has been to expand our vision of computers all around us to a world where they could see, hear talk and understand as humans. 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.”