Microsoft’s latest acquisition, conversational artificial intelligence (AI) startup Semantic Machines, aims to make digital assistants and bots sound more human.
The companies didn’t disclose the purchase price.
Semantic Machines’ technology will boost Microsoft’s AI offerings. This includes its Azure Bot Service, digital assistant Cortana, and social chatbots like XiaoIce. This also includes its Cognitive Services, which allow developers to build speech recognition and natural language understanding into applications. The company says more than 1 million developers use these services.
The Berkeley, California-based startup says its AI technology goes beyond simply understanding commands. Instead, it allows computers to understand conversations. This enables machines to “communicate, collaborate, understand our goals, and accomplish tasks,” according to Semantic Machines’ website.
CEO Dan Roth co-founded the company in 2014 along with UC Berkeley professor Dan Klein, former Apple chief speech scientist Larry Gillick, and others. The startup raised $20.9 million in two funding rounds, according to Crunchbase.
In addition to buying the startup, Microsoft will establish a conversational AI center in Berkeley, according to a blog post.
“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,” wrote David Ku, CVP and CTO of Microsoft AI and research. “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.”