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Your parents love you, Cortana. That's why we bought you an upgrade

Microsoft slurps conversational-AI startup Semantic Machines

Microsoft's decided its Cortana speech assistant needs a bit of buffing to survive in a world where Google AI can book restaurants and a parrot can turn the lights off with Alexa*, so the company has acquired a conversational-AI startup called Semantic Machines.

The company announced the purchase by saying its goal is conversational AI, and says Semantic Machines has (of course) a “revolutionary new approach” to the problem.

The acqui-hire brings along Dan Roth (his Wikipedia bio says the entrepreneur's tech focus is the “computational foundations of intelligent behaviour”), UC Berkeley professor Dan Klein (expertise: natural language processing and automatically acquiring models of human languages), Stanford University professor Percy Liang (he specialises in developing “trustworthy agents”), and Larry Gillick, once chief speech scientist for Apple.

The transaction is a win for Berkeley as well, since Microsoft is going to set up its AI centre of excellence there.

As well as boosting Cortana, Microsoft's announcement said the acquisition will also be rolled into its XiaoIce chatbot, which it says has had more than 30 billion conversations in China, Japan, the US, Indonesia, and India.

Microsoft had found itself so far behind the AI field that at CES in January, El Reg started nailing the lid on the coffin. ®

*Bootnote: We mean Petra the parrot in Orlando, Florida, whose YouTube channel shows off her ability to control Alexa.

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