Microsoft announced on Aug. 22 that it is acquiring Genee, an artificial intelligence (AI) and virtual assistant technology startup from Mountain View, Calif., for an undisclosed amount. Genee’s technology will be used to enhance Office 365’s scheduling and meetings management capabilities, Rajesh Jha, corporate vice president of Microsoft Outlook and Office 365, said in an Aug. 22 announcement.
Dovetailing with Microsoft’s “Conversations as a Platform” vision, Genee enables business professionals to set reminders and carve out time for meetings, calls, dinners and other events in their calendars in much the same way a personal assistant would. Using a set of natural-language commands, users can instruct Genee to find, book and confirm times that work with the parties involved, even if they lack shared access to one another’s calendars.
“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,” stated Jha. Instead of suggesting specific times for a meeting, users can send a more open-ended email invitation to get together sometime in the next week, for example.
By copying Genee on the email message, the service proposes some meeting times based on a user’s availability and sends invitations on a user’s behalf, explained Jha. Apart from email, Genee also works with Short Message Service (SMS) texting systems and Twitter. Chatbot support for Facebook includes Facebook Messenger and Microsoft’s own Skype Bot platform.
Microsoft is apparently wasting little time incorporating Genee’s technology into the Office 365 software ecosystem.
The Genee service is shutting down on Sept. 1, revealed an Aug. 22 blog post from Genee co-founders Ben Cheung and Charles Lee. “While Genee will no longer send you useful reminders and agendas from your calendar, all existing calendar entries created by Genee will remain,” they wrote.
Both Cheung and Lee plan to join Microsoft in the wake of the deal. “The Genee team will take the valuable experiences and lessons that you taught us to Microsoft, where we’ll continue to build amazing next-generation intelligent experiences,” they added.
The buyout follows the acquisition of chatbot integration specialist Wand Labs in June 16, just days after Redmond, Wash., software and cloud services provider announced it was paying $26 billion to snap up LinkedIn. “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,” David Ku, corporate vice president of the Information Platform group at Microsoft, said in a June 16 announcement.
Microsoft isn’t the only technology heavyweight that sees a bright future in AI.
Apple recently bought AI startup Perceptio for an undisclosed amount. Perceptio specializes in image classification systems that aren’t connected to external databases, suggesting that the capability may appear in future iPhones.
Also targeting image-based AI, Google recently acquired Moodstocks, a Paris-based startup whose technology makes images in videos searchable. The deal was made barely a month after opening a machine-learning research facility in Zurich.