Microsoft buys AI startup to make Cortana sound less like a robot


Microsoft has acquired AI startup Semantic Machines in a move that could eventually bring more human-sounding responses to its digital assistant, Cortana, and chatbots.

The Berkeley-based startup boasts a number of AI luminaries, including Apple’s former chief speech scientist Larry Gillick, and attracted the attention of Microsoft thanks to its developments in machine learning that allow AI bots to understand and engage in natural conversation.

The Redwood giant has not revealed how much it paid for Semantic Machines, but it did reveal that a new research center will be opened in California as part of the acquisition (via The Verge).

In a blog post announcing the deal, Microsoft talked up the need for AI assistants and chatbots — like those running on its Azure Bot Service — to not just respond to voice queries, but understand them and participate in conversation instead.

“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,” the post reads.

“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.”

Microsoft is far from the only company actively looking to improve human-bot relations through machine learning. Google revealed the terrifyingly brilliant Duplex system at I/O 2018 in a series of demos that showed Google Assistant successfully making calls and talking to real people in a scarily realistic manner.



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