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Microsoft To Make Office 365 More Conversational with Acquisition of AI Startup Genee

Microsoft is giving Cortana, the company's AI-based personal digital assistant, a boost with the addition of Genee, a startup Microsoft today said it has agreed to acquire for an undisclosed amount. Genee, which launched just two years ago, lets users schedule meetings with individuals or groups by speaking to it.

The addition of Genee builds on Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella's plan to bring "conversations-as-a-service" to the mainstream as the next UI and framework for how applications are  used and connected -- a strategy he outlined in late March at the company's annual Build developers conference. Enabling that is the Microsoft Bot Framework and the Cortana Intelligence Suite. Genee is a meeting and scheduling service that connects with all major e-mail and calendaring apps including Outlook, Gmail, Apple's iCloud and chatbot services offered by Facebook, Twitter and Skype, as well as all SMS-based services.

Cofounders Ben Cheung and Charles Lee, who will join Microsoft, launched Genee to "simplify the time-consuming task of scheduling (and rescheduling) meetings," said Rajesh Jha, Microsoft's corporate VP for Outlook and Office 365, in a blog post announcing the deal. "It's especially useful for large groups and for when you don't have access to someone's calendar."

Jha said Genee is built with optimized decision-making algorithms and natural-language processing that allows people to interact with the virtual assistant as though it were a human. Its artificial intelligence can allow someone to request a meeting with someone by taking one's schedule and preferences and sending an e-mail to the intended recipients. Lee described the vision for Genee in a post announcing Microsoft's intention to acquire it.

"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," he noted. "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."

Lee said in wake of the deal, the Genee service will be shut down on Sept. 1. Jha was vague about what happens next, other than to state that he sees the Genee team helping Microsoft "bring intelligence into every digital experience" as it builds new productivity capabilities into Office 365.

It's also unclear whether Cortana will have a rival in Genee or if Microsoft plans to combine the DNA of the two.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 08/22/2016 at 12:30 PM


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