Microsoft acquired Semantic Machines to improve the conversational abilities of bots and smart assistants by using artificial intelligence (AI), with plans to open an AI centre of excellence.
In a blog post David Ku, CTO of Microsoft AI and Research, said Semantic Machines’ work “uses the power of 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.”
Opening a conversational AI centre of excellency in Berkeley, California (where Semantic Machines is based) will “push forward the boundaries of what is possible in language interfaces”, Ku stated.
Semantic Machines’ staff includes former Apple chief speech scientist Larry Gillick; technology entrepreneur Dan Roth; and two natural language AI researchers – University of California, Berkeley professor Dan Klein and Stanford University professor Percy Liang.
More than 1 million developers use Microsoft Cognitive Services and around 300,000 use its Azure Bot Service to make computing more conversational.
Financial details of the deal were not disclosed.
Talking the talk
The tech giant believes that for rich and effective communication, intelligent assistants need to be able to have a natural dialogue instead of just responding to simple commands.
In the blog, Ku explained that it is developing conversational AI with its digital assistant Cortana, as well as with social chatbots like XiaoIce.
XiaoIce has already had more than 30 billion conversations, averaging up to 30 minutes each, with 200 million users across platforms in China, Japan, the US, India and Indonesia.
“With XiaoIce and Cortana, we’ve made breakthroughs in speech recognition and more recently become the first to add full-duplex voice sense to a conversational AI system, allowing people to carry on a conversation naturally,” Ku explained.
Meanwile rival Google last week clarified it will warn humans when they are interacting with its new Duplex system, responding to an outcry around the AI-based capability which is designed to mimic the human voice to perform certain tasks.