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Microsoft Makes AI Move For Wand Labs

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

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Reinforcements for malfunctioning Tay chatbot? Microsoft purchases AI app specialist Wand Labs

Microsoft has made yet another acquisition with the purchase of Wand Labs, a messaging app developer that specialises in artificial intelligence (AI).

The acquisition, for an undisclosed amount of money, comes hot on the heels of Microsoft’s mega £18.5bn purchase of business social network LinkedIn.

Wand Labs

Whilst Wand Labs main role is to develop messaging apps, its core specialist area concerns conversational intelligence. Essentially, its technology aims to help increase the intelligence of apps.

“I am pleased to announce that Microsoft has acquired messaging app developer Wand Labs,” blogged David Ku, Microsoft VP of the Information Platform Group. “This acquisition accelerates our vision and strategy for Conversation as a Platform.”

“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 – connecting people to knowledge, information, services and other people in more relevant and natural ways,” wrote Ku.

Ku said that the Wand team’s expertise around semantic ontologies, services mapping, third-party developer integration and conversational interfaces will fit well with Bing’s engineer and platform team.

“Back in 2013, my team and I embarked on a journey to integrate services into the chat experience,” explained Vishal Sharma, CEO of Wand. “It’s an exciting time to be working in the area of semantics and conversation – an area that Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has highlighted as core to the future and calls Conversation as a Platform. As such, I’m truly pleased to announce that Wand has been acquired by Microsoft.”

“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,” said Sharma.

Wand Labs has already withdrawn its apps from the Google Play and Apple App store, and there is no word on whether the acquisition will result in any redundancies.

It is understood that Wand Lab personnel will join Microsoft’s Bing engineering and platform team, where they will develop intelligent agents and chat bots.

tay-ai-microsoftChatbot Reinforcements?

Microsoft has been developing its artificial intelligence capabilities for a while now, and recently reconfirmed its AI commitment at its annual Build developer conference.

Earlier this year it announced it would use Minecraft as a testing ground for training next-generation artificial intelligence.

Microsoft already offers its intelligence assistant Cortana of course, although it recently revealed that searches made using Cortana will only open in Bing and Microsoft Edge. And Cortana’s reach has also been further curtailed after Microsoft’s decision to effectively withdraw from the consumer mobile business.

Microsoft has also experimented with “intelligence” chatbots, although it has had mixed success. Earlier this year it had apologise for its malfunctioning Twitter chatbot called Tay.

The chatbot was intended to imitate the speech patterns of a 19-year-old girl and to interact with younger users. It was taken offline only a few hours after its launch after its teenaged target audience manipulated it into proclaiming support for Adolf Hitler, for Donald Trump’s plans to extend the wall along the US-Mexico border and other controversial subjects.

Redmond then relaunched it a week later, only to take it offline once again after the chatbot boasted of taking drugs in front of the police and sent strings of random messages to its hundreds of thousands of followers.

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