When it comes to the burgeoning arena of conversational intelligence, Microsoft could use a helping hand. That help is coming in the form of an acquisition of messaging app developer Wand Labs. Following Microsoft’s $26 billion purchase of LinkedIn on Monday, this marks Microsoft’s second major acquisition (this one at an undisclosed price) this week.
“Wand Labs’ technology and talent will strengthen our position in the emerging era of conversational intelligence, where we bring together the power of human language with advanced machine intelligence,” said Microsoft’s David Ku. “It builds on and extends the power of the Bing, Microsoft Azure, Office 365 and Windows platforms to empower developers everywhere.”
Wand Labs was founded in 2013 and currently has just seven employees, who will join the Bing engineering and platform team. Its expertise in AI will help advance Microsoft’s Conversation as a Platform initiative, which was announced at this year’s BUILD conference.
“The goal being to leverage mobile scale, natural language capabilities and third-party services to enable users to easily access and share any authorized service or device,” said Wand founder and CEO Vishal Sharma. “Our deep experience with semantics, messaging and authority are a natural fit for the work already underway at Microsoft, especially in the area of intelligent agents and cognitive services.”
If you recall, Microsoft had quite a bit of a PR problem on its hands when it launched its Tay AI chatbot via Twitter back in March. What started out as a harmless female chatbot targeted at millennials aged 18 to 24 turned into an experiment of what can go wrong when devious internet characters attempt to undermine AI routines.
Tay quickly began picking up the lingo that people fed her and before long she called President Obama a monkey, shouted Nazi propaganda and even encouraged her followers to “F**k my robot p***y.” Microsoft profusely apologized for Tay’s behavior, and Tay briefly went back online a week later and started spamming Twitter. Tay has been “offline” ever since that second incident.
Microsoft’s acquisition of Wand Labs will go a long way towards improving chatbots like Tay, which are used for entertainment purposes and in the business/services arena, which is where the company is really hoping to leverage that technology.