Microsoft acquires Semantic Machines, signaling a deeper move into ‘conversational AI’
Microsoft says that the Berkeley-based technology company has created a ‘revolutionary’ new approach to building AI
With the recent acquisition of Semantic Machines, Microsoft is bolstering its commitment to conversational artificial intelligence (AI). David Ku, Microsoft corporate vice president and chief technology officer for AI and research, announced the news on Monday.
Microsoft says that the Berkeley-based technology company has created a “revolutionary” new approach to building AI.
With this move, Microsoft underscores its dedication to being on the leading edge of conversational AI and commitment to Cortana, its struggling-for-market-recognition voice assistant product, and other conversational products and platforms.
From Ku’s blog post:
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.”
Ku says the company’s goal is to “expand our vision of computers all around us to a world where they could see, hear, talk and understand as humans.”
Two years ago, Microsoft launched its open source Bot Framework with pre-built Cognitive Services, which was created to help developers create conversational intelligent assistants. There are now more than 1 million developers using the Cognitive Services feature, says Microsoft.
Ku said that Microsoft is also working to elevate its digital assistant Cortana, and its XiaoIce social chatbot that’s used mainly in China.
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 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.
Semantic Machines will stay in Berkeley, where Microsoft will establish a conversational AI center of excellence.