Microsoft Just Bought a Hot AI Startup That Could Help Its Bots Talk Like Humans One Day

May 21, 2018, 11:25 AM UTC

“Conversational AI” is a hot topic right now, what with the tech giants’ virtual assistants all competing to be the most human-esque, and Microsoft (MSFT) just gave itself a boost by purchasing a startup called Semantic Machines.

The move could improve Microsoft’s Cortana assistant, as well as the “social chatbots” that it is deploying on social networks.

Semantic Machines is a company that’s been developing technology for voice-enabled agents that can speak like a person and understand what others tell it. The use cases on its website echo those recently demonstrated by Google with its Duplex app, for example interacting with real people to make appointments on behalf of the user.

In a blog post, Microsoft noted that the Berkeley, Calif.-based company comes with some well-known talents in the field, such as UC Berkeley professor Dan Klein and Stanford’s Percy Liang. Semantic Machines’s chief technology officer, Larry Gillick, is also notable for having been the chief speech scientist behind Apple’s Siri in 2013 and 2014.

“With the acquisition of Semantic Machines, we will establish a conversational AI center of excellence in Berkeley to push forward the boundaries of what is possible in language interfaces,” Microsoft AI chief technology officer David Ku said in the post. “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.”

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