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Microsoft today announced that it has acquired Semantic Machines to bolster its conversational AI offerings — like Cortana, the Azure Bot Service, and Microsoft Cognitive Services. Semantic Machines works in areas like speech synthesis, deep learning, and natural language processing.

VentureBeat spoke with Microsoft AI and Research Group CTO David Ku Monday for more details on what the acquisition means for Microsoft’s future in conversational AI.

Semantic Machines describes itself as a company bent on creating conversational AI that enables machines “to communicate, collaborate, understand our goals, and accomplish tasks.” It could help Microsoft compete with conversational computing initiatives from Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, Google’s Assistant, and Samsung’s Bixby.

In addition, Semantic Machines has assembled a cadre of experts in the conversational AI arena, like Larry Gillick, former chief scientist for Siri at Apple, and well-known researchers like UC Berkeley professor Dan Klein and Stanford University professor Percy Liang.

“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 and Research Group CTO David Ku said in a blog post.

Founded in August 2014, the company attracted $8.5 million in funding that year and another $12.3 million in December 2015. Investors include Bain Capital Ventures and General Catalyst Partners.


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