Microsoft Buys Smart Scheduling Service Genee for Office 365 Boost
A Mountain View, California-based startup that uses natural language processing and artificial intelligence for smarter scheduling is being acquired by Microsoft for an undisclosed amount.
Founded in 2014, Genee was designed to act as a virtual personal assistant to make it easier for two or more people to set up meetings or other kinds of get-togethers. In addition to working via email, the company's technology also uses chatbots for intelligent scheduling via text messages, Facebook Messenger, Twitter and Skype.
While Microsoft isn't providing details about how it will incorporate Genee's technology into its own, it appears likely the scheduling service will make an appearance on Outlook email and the cloud-based Office 365 productivity suite. Genee's co-founders, CEO Ben Cheung and president Charles Lee, are also both expected to join Microsoft.
Intelligence for 'Every Digital Experience'
"Genee uses natural language processing and optimized decision-making algorithms so that interacting with a virtual assistant is just like interacting with a human one," Rajesh Jha, Microsoft's corporate vice president for Outlook and Office 365, wrote yesterday in a blog post announcing the acquisition. "As we continue to build new Office 365 productivity capabilities and services our customers value, I'm confident the Genee team will help us further our ambition to bring intelligence into every digital experience."
In the wake of the Microsoft acquisition, Genee will be shutting down its service on September 1, Lee and Cheung said in a separate post on Genee's Web site. Available for free while it has been operating in beta, the Genee service will stop sending reminders and agendas after that date, although users will still have access to existing calendar entries.
"In our drive to deliver large productivity gains through intelligent scheduling coordination and optimization, we often found ourselves on the forefront of technology involving natural language processing, artificial intelligence (AI), and chat bots," Lee and Cheung said. "We consider Microsoft to be the leader in personal and enterprise productivity, AI, and virtual assistant technologies, so we look forward to bringing our passion and expertise to a team that is committed to delivering cutting-edge language and intelligence services."
Understanding the Context of Spoken Commands
Genee users can set the virtual assistant into motion by carbon-copying the Genee email address when they send meeting suggestions to one or more other people. Based on the information included in the users' suggestions, as well as in their calendar and scheduling preferences, Genee will contact those people and ask them to select from several different available time slots.
The Genee technology can manage meeting suggestions and invitations for several people at a time, as well as check multiple calendars to determine everyone's availability. It can also handle cancellations and rescheduling.
Users can launch Genee with a spoken command and then give instructions such as, "Genee, schedule lunch for 90 minutes with Charles at my office next week." The technology's natural language processing capabilities will pick up on such words as "schedule" and "lunch" to look for available meeting times during reasonable hours, such as noon rather than, say, 6 p.m.
Earlier this year, Google introduced a similar scheduling tool for its Android Calendar app called "Find-a-time" that checks users' calendar entries to optimize get-togethers, although the feature is not based on the spoken language. Facebook. too. has opened up its Messenger platform to developers who want to create chatbots for automated support and customer service, while Microsoft has also rolled out bots via Skype, which it owns.
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