Microsoft Buys AI Startup Genee To Boost Office 365 - InformationWeek
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8/23/2016
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Microsoft Buys AI Startup Genee To Boost Office 365

Microsoft has agreed to acquire Genee, an AI-powered scheduling service, to drive intelligent experiences in Office 365.

Microsoft's $1 Billion-Plus Acquisitions: 9 Big Bets
Microsoft's $1 Billion-Plus Acquisitions: 9 Big Bets
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Microsoft has announced plans to acquire another startup to boost its productivity app portfolio. This time Redmond is buying Genee, a scheduling service powered by artificial intelligence.

Genee was cofounded by Ben Cheung and Charles Lee in 2014 with the goal of simplifying the typically arduous process of scheduling and rescheduling meetings. Microsoft plans to use this technology to enhance its Office 365 productivity suite.

The service uses the power of natural language processing and decision-making algorithms to make the process of interacting with a virtual assistant similar to that of talking with a human.

[Read: Microsoft PowerShell is open source, on Linux and Mac.]

Microsoft described how the app works by illustrating a common scheduling scenario. Someone who wanted to meet a potential client could simply send the person an email and copy Genee, in the way someone would add a personal assistant.

The technology in Genee is built to understand you want to "find a time to meet [the client] for coffee next week." It will streamline the process by emailing the client directly with a few options that align with your schedule and preferences.

Genee will also send a meeting invitation on your behalf, eliminating the process of going back and forth with the client to find a time that works with you both. The service determines the best time based on what you listed; for example, a lunch or call, according to its website.

If you don't specify a time, Genee assumes a business meeting will happen on a weekday between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., according to your local time. It gauges availability based on every calendar it can access.

The tool is especially handy for large groups of people, when you don't have access to someone's calendar and want to schedule a meeting with them.

"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," wrote Genee cofounders Cheung and Lee in a blog post on the news.

(Image: Nicolas McComber/iStockphoto)

(Image: Nicolas McComber/iStockphoto)

Microsoft plans to shut down the Genee service on Sept. 1. While Genee will no longer send its users reminders and agendas from their calendars, all existing calendar entries created by the service will stay, the cofounders explained.

"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 be delivering cutting-edge language and intelligence services," the cofounders said.

The service will be a valuable addition to Microsoft's portfolio, especially given Redmond's focus on mobile productivity apps.

Earlier this year, CEO Satya Nadella explained that the company's vision of the future of communication revolves around the idea of "conversation as a platform," which will be the foundation of the ways we interact with technology and one another.

The acquisition of Genee seems a natural next step in the process of creating such a future.

Kelly Sheridan is Associate Editor at Dark Reading. She started her career in business tech journalism at Insurance & Technology and most recently reported for InformationWeek, where she covered Microsoft and business IT. Sheridan earned her BA at Villanova University. View Full Bio

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Whoopty
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Whoopty,
User Rank: Ninja
8/24/2016 | 7:54:35 AM
The future
I think this is another example of the next arms race in the startup world. Companies will buy up AI developers to further their own internal projects and create new chatbots and services through automation that just weren't possible a few years ago.

We're still a long way off having full digital assistants like in the movie Her, but I think that's where a lot of companies, specifically Microsoft, Google and Apple, want to take us.

Cortana, Siri and Google Now are just the tip of the iceberg. 
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