Redmond is making good on its promise to pursue a strategy of “conversation as a platform” with the acquisition of messaging app developer Wand Labs. The deal should help Microsoft boost its capabilities in machine intelligence and natural language processing for its chat and messaging platforms.
“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,” David Ku, corporate vice president of the Information Platform Group at Microsoft, said in statement. “It builds on and extends the power of the Bing, Microsoft Azure, Office 365 and Windows platforms to empower developers everywhere.”
“The acquisition of Wand Labs will support Microsoft's chatbots strategy, which the company refers to as "conversations as a platform,” Raul Castanon-Martinez, senior Analyst, enterprise mobility, 451 Research told us today. "This is CEO Satya Nadella's first big initiative."
Castanon-Martinez said although there are redundancies in the technology developed by Wand Labs and Microsoft's own assets, the acquisition will also provide Microsoft with a talented group of individuals with expertise in conversational interfaces. This will help Microsoft significantly expand the team of experts that are currently working on its conversation-as-a-platform strategy, he said.
Intelligent Agents and Chat Bots
"This will be critical moving forward; Microsoft has ambitious goals to become the leader in this space [and] the industry is moving at a fast pace. Amazon and Facebook are also investing heavily in conversational interfaces," Castanon-Martinez said. "These are still early days but Microsoft is already at the forefront of the bots wave. More importantly with the acquisition of Wand Labs the company continues to march ahead building out the strategic set of technologies that will define the next stage of mobility."
Ku said that the Wand Labs team’s expertise around semantic ontologies, services mapping, third-party developer integration, and conversational interfaces made it a particularly attractive acquisition to integrate with the Bing engineering and platform team, especially since Microsoft has been pursuing advances in intelligent agents and chat bots.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella unveiled the conversation-as-a-platform strategy earlier this year at Microsoft’s 2016 Build Conference. The strategy refers to efforts by the company to make it easier for app developers to incorporate some of the intelligence capabilities of Bing available for chat bot developers through a new framework, he said. The ultimate goal is to help make chat bots and voice commands the central interfaces for a broad variety of apps, according to Nadella.
Wand Labs' mission is to “tear down app walls, integrate your services in chat and make them work together so you can do more with less taps," according to its Web site.
Big Moves in Machine Intelligence and Natural Language
Microsoft did not say how much it spent on the startup, which launched in 2013 to develop tools to let users share links, content, and other information with their friends through their messaging apps and platforms. While the company had offered trial versions of its tools privately to some users, the company’s messaging apps will now be shut down. Today’s news comes just days after Microsoft announced it had acquired professional social networking site LinkedIn for $26.2 billion.
Wand Labs’ CEO Vishal Sharma, a former Google employee, will join the Microsoft team. “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,” Sharma said in a note on Wand’s Web site.
This week is proving to be a busy one for machine intelligence announcements. Yesterday, Google announced that it plans to open a new research center in Switzerland that would focus on machine perception, natural language processing, and machine learning. Intel, meanwhile, recently acquired computer vision software company Itseez to help bolster its Internet of Things machine learning and machine perception technology capabilities.
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