M+E Connections

Microsoft Buys Genee in Latest Move to Expand AI Initiatives

In the latest move by Microsoft to expand its artificial intelligence (AI) initiatives, the company announced Aug. 22 that it signed a deal to buy Genee, a Mountain View, Calif.-startup that runs an AI-powered scheduling service. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Microsoft will integrate Genee into Office 365 to “accelerate intelligent experiences” in the software suite, Rajesh Jha, Microsoft corporate VP of Outlook and Office 365, said in a blog post.

Genee co-founders Ben Cheung and Charles Lee, who plan to join Microsoft, started their company in 2014 to simplify the time-consuming task of scheduling and rescheduling meetings, Jha said, adding Genee is “especially useful for large groups and for when you don’t have access to someone’s calendar.”

Genee uses natural language processing and optimized decision-making algorithms, he said, adding that allows interacting with a virtual assistant to be “just like interacting with a human one.”

As an example of how Genee works, Jha cited a common scheduling problem: “Say you want to meet a potential customer, Diana, for coffee. Simply send an email to Diana and copy Genee, like you would a personal assistant. Genee understands that you want to ‘Find a time to meet with Diana for coffee next week’ and will streamline the process by emailing her directly with appropriate options that work with your calendar and preferences. Genee will even send out the meeting invite on your behalf – freeing up your time.”

As Microsoft continues to build new Office 365 productivity capabilities and services that its customers value, the Genee team “will help us further our ambition to bring intelligence into every digital experience,” he said.

Microsoft has already been using AI as part of its Cortana Intelligence Suite., with Microsoft announcing two new additions to Cortana in March. The first, Microsoft Cognitive Services, is a collection of intelligence application programming interfaces (APIs) that allows systems to see, hear, speak, understand and interpret users’ needs using natural methods of communication, it said at the time in a news release.

The second, the Microsoft Bot Framework, can be used by developers — programming in any language — to build intelligent bots that enable customers to chat using natural language on a wide variety of platforms including text/Short Message Service (SMS), Office 365, Skype, Slack and the Internet, Microsoft said.

The Cortana Intelligence Suite, formerly known as the Cortana Analytics Suite, was built on the Microsoft Azure cloud computing platform.

Seeing AI, a Microsoft research project under development, shows how the new Cortana capabilities can help people who are visually impaired or blind “better understand who and what is around them,” the company said in March.

The existing Genee service will shut down Sept. 1, Lee said in a separate Genee blog post Aug. 22. Genee will no longer send users of its service reminders and agendas from their calendars, but “all existing calendar entries created by Genee will remain,” he said. The Genee team “will take the valuable experiences and lessons” that users of the service taught them to Microsoft, where “we’ll continue to build amazing next generation intelligent experiences,” he said.