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CNBC

Microsoft buys AI start-up that schedules meetings like a personal assistant

Start-up will shut down service next month as its founders join Microsoft's ranks

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 23 August, 2016, 1:07pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 August, 2016, 3:48pm

Microsoft said on Monday it has agreed to acquire Genee, an artificial intelligence (AI) app that acts as a digital personal assistant to schedule meetings.

The start-up, which was founded in 2014, will shut down its service on September 1. The financial terms of the deal were not disclosed by Genee founders Ben Cheung and Charles Lee, who will join Microsoft.

It's unclear whether the product will be integrated with any of Microsoft's existing applications, but comments from the company suggest Genee's expertise could be used across Microsoft's Office 365 suite of products.

"As we continue to build new Office 365 productivity capabilities and services our customers value, I'm confident the Genee team will help us further our ambition to bring intelligence into every digital experience," Rajesh Jha, Microsoft's corporate vice president of Outlook and Office 365, said in a blog post announcing the deal.

Scheduling meetings can often involve a lot of back and forth over emails, something Genee solved with its solution.

This is how the process works.

A user sends an email to the person they wanted to set up a meeting with and copy in Genee, like a personal assistant. Genee claims to understand the details of the meeting, including the date and location of the meeting. The app then emails the recipient directly with options that fit the user's calendar and preferences.

Genee can do this because it uses natural language processing, according to the company.

Computers traditionally found it hard to understand normal language, but improvements in AI have now made it possible. So Genee can understand if you want a coffee or lunch, and can also make sense of the time of day you'd like it.

Major tech firms are focusing on bolstering the capabilities of their digital personal assistants. Genee's expertise could be used to improve capabilities of Microsoft's Cortana as it competes with the likes of Google Now and Apple's Siri.

Genee marks the latest acquisition in Microsoft's buying spree, particularly in the productivity and artificial intelligence space - a big focus for a number of major technology giants.

Last year, Microsoft bought a calendar app Sunrise before shutting it down the following year. And in February 2016, the Redmond, WA-based firm acquired a British AI keyboard app called SwiftKey .

Rivals are also actively looking to boost their AI capabilities. Earlier this year, Apple bought Emotient , a start-up that uses AI to analyse facial expressions, and this month it added machine learnings start-up Turi to its ranks.