Microsoft has agreed to acquire Semantic Machines, a Berkeley, California-based startup that develops conversational AI – systems that help bots speak to humans naturally – in a bid to improve its Cortana voice assistant. That’s a big win for Microsoft, because Semantic Machines’ team includes some serious talent in this space: its members have worked on the core systems that powered Google Now; its CTO is the former Chief Speech Scientist for Siri at Apple, while others came on board from speech recognition heavyweight Nuance Communications. The move comes at a time when conversational AI’s relevance is steadily growing: chatbots,…

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