Microsoft's Future Cortana AI To Sound More Human Thanks To Semantic Machines Acquisition

Microsoft wants to improve its AI tech and is acquiring smaller firms to do just that. The software giant says that we are only at the start of teaching computers to understand the full context of human communications. Today these intelligent AI bots and assistants, like Cortana, are only able to respond to simple commands and queries. This allows the AI to tell the user weather reports, play a song, or share a reminder.

semantic machines

What Microsoft wants in the future is a "rich and effective" communication that allows the AI assistant to have a natural dialog with the user rather than just responding to commands. Microsoft calls this "conversational AI." To help it reach the goal of conversational AI, Microsoft has purchased Semantic Machines Inc. Semantic Machines is based in Berkeley, California and is developing a "revolutionary" new approach to building a conversational AI using machine learning.

That machine learning enables the user to discover, access, and interact with information and services in a more natural way and with less effort. The company is led by pioneers in conversational AI including Dan Roth and a pair of "prominent and innovative natural language AI researchers" UC Berkeley professor Dan Klein and Stanford University professor Percy Liang. Former Apple chief speech scientist Larry Gillick is also among the company leaders.

Microsoft has been pushing research and breakthroughs in the fundamental building blocks needed for conversational AI like speech recognition and natural language understanding for over 20 years. One of its big steps in the field was the release of pre-built Cognitive Services for infusing speech recognition and natural language understanding into intelligent assistants. There are now over a million developers using the Microsoft Cognitive Services and over 300,000 using the Azure Bot Service.

Microsoft says that its purchase of Semantic Machines allows it to establish a conversational AI center of excellence in Berkeley to push the boundaries of what is possible in language interfaces. With combined tech from the new acquisition and Microsoft's own tech it expects to deliver more powerful, natural and productive user experiences for conversational computing.