Microsoft acquires conversational AI startup Semantic Machines
Leading global technology company Microsoft has announced that it has acquired Semantic Machines in the aim of enhancing its smart assistant Cortana using artificial intelligence.
The California-based startup uses machine learning to help smart assistants learn information that can then be used in future dialogue, with the company having aided Apple with the creation of automated speech recognition capabilities for Siri.
“For rich and effective communication, intelligent assistants need to be able to have a natural dialogue instead of just responding to commands,” said David Ku, CVP and CTO of Microsoft AI & Research.
“Their [Semantic Machines] work uses the power of machine learning to enable users to discover, access and interact with information and services in a much more natural way, and with significantly less effort.”
As part of the deal, Microsoft has revealed that it will build a new conversational AI centre of excellence in Berkeley, a place where Semantic Machines already has a footprint, as the company looks to pioneer the technological development of smart assistants.
“With the acquisition of Semantic Machines, we will establish a conversational AI center of excellence in Berkeley to push forward the boundaries of what is possible in language interfaces,” said Ku.
“Combining Semantic Machines’ technology with Microsoft’s own AI advances, we aim to deliver powerful, natural and more productive user experiences that will take conversational computing to a new level.”
Semantic Machine’s software compliments Microsoft’s existing efforts, having announced that its Chinese chatbot can now politely interrupt humans, both listening and conversing at the same time.
Further, Microsoft has been continually developing its Cognitive Services, now with 1mn developers, and its Azure Bot Services, with 300,000 developers on the platform, to this end.
Similarly, Google has been working on developing its own advanced automated speech technology, having unveiled its enhanced Duplex system at the I/O Conference earlier this month. For more information on this and how else Google is looking to implement AI this year, see Android, Assistant and AI: Eight key announcements from Google’s I/O Conference.
Discord buys Sentropy to fight against hate and abuse online
Discord, a popular chat app, has acquired the software company Sentropy to bolster its efforts to combat online abuse and harassment. Sentropy, monitors online networks for abuse and harassment, then offers users a way to block problematic people and filter out messages they don’t want to see.
First launched in 2015 and currently boasting 150 million monthly active users, Discord plans to integrate Sentropy’s own products into its existing toolkit and the company will also bring the smaller company’s leadership group aboard. Discord currently uses a “multilevel” approach to moderation, and a Trust and Safety (T&S) team dedicated to protecting users and shaping content moderation policies comprised 15% of Discord’s workforce as of May 2020.
“T&S tech and processes should not be used as a competitive advantage,” Sentropy CEO John Redgrave said in a blog post on the announcement. “We all deserve digital and physical safety, and moderators deserve better tooling to help them do one of the hardest jobs online more effectively and with fewer harmful impacts.”
Cleanse platforms of online harassment and abuse
Redgrave elaborated on the company’s natural connection with Discord: “Discord represents the next generation of social companies — a generation where users are not the product to be sold, but the engine of connectivity, creativity, and growth. In this model, user privacy and user safety are essential product features, not an afterthought. The success of this model depends upon building next-generation Trust and Safety into every product. We don’t take this responsibility lightly and are humbled to work at the scale of Discord and with Discord’s resources to increase the depth of our impact.”
Sentropy launched out of stealth last summer with an AI system designed to detect, track and cleanse platforms of online harassment and abuse. The company emerged then with $13 million in funding from notable backers including Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian and his VC firm Initialized Capital, King River Capital, Horizons Ventures and Playground Global.
“We are excited to help Discord decide how we can most effectively share with the rest of the Internet the best practices, technology, and tools that we’ve developed to protect our own communities,” Redgrave said.