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Microsoft Advances Its Bot Efforts with Wand Acquisition

In a bid to bolster its evolving artificial intelligence (AI) vision, Microsoft on Thursday announced its acquisition of startup company Wand Labs Inc.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed. However, David Ku, corporate vice president of Microsoft's Information Platform Group, said in the announcement that Wand's technology and personnel will become part of Microsoft's new "conversation as a platform" AI effort that was highlighted by CEO Satya Nadella at Build 2016. That effort consists of a new Bot Framework and the Cortana Intelligence Suite (essentially, Bing search APIs) for developers to tap.

Microsoft intends to use the Wand acquisition to "empower developers" and extend its "Bing, Microsoft Azure, Office 365 and Windows platforms," Ku explained.

Wand, a small startup with about seven team members, makes a solution that brings together instant messaging, mobile app sharing and permissions controls. It was founded in 2013 by former Google software engineer Vishal Sharma, who developed a "voice-based digital assistant" at Google in his spare time, according to a Backchannel story by Steven Levy.

As a startup, Wand aimed to solve sharing problems in the fragmented mobile applications world. Wand's solution translates multiple application formats "into a single semantic language" using a "virtual version of the app or service," according to Levy's article. It can be used to share access to a music service, for instance, or grant permission to another person to alter thermostat controls.

"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," said Sharma, Wand's CEO and founder, in a Wand announcement.

Wand will be shutting down its services, Sharma said, but he added that people can "expect to see familiar elements of our work in the future."

Wand was bought before it produced a commercial product. It's had apps available for iOS and Android devices before getting acquired by Microsoft, but they were still at the beta test stage. The Wand app was said to enable sharing with more than 50 services, according to a Wand FAQ, but the company hadn't fully reached out to developers.

Ku said the Wand team will be part of Microsoft's Bing engineering team, working on chat bots.

"The Wand team's expertise around semantic ontologies, services mapping, third-party developer integration and conversational interfaces make them a great fit to join the Bing engineering and platform team, especially with the work we're doing in the area of intelligent agents and chat bots," he wrote.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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