Hot off the heels of its huge acquisition of LinkedIn, Microsoft is betting on another, lesser known startup to give it an edge in the conversational intelligence race. Wand Labs is a tiny startup with just seven employees, but Microsoft saw enough promise in the messaging app technologies they’ve been building since 2013 to acquire Wand this past month.
So how does this acquisition fit into Microsoft’s larger strategy of moving away from being a software company to positioning itself as a nimble cloud and mobile contender? According to the announcement on Microsoft’s official blog, “Wand Labs’ technology and talent will strengthen our position in the emerging era of conversational intelligence, where we bring together the power of human language with advanced machine intelligence — connecting people to knowledge, information, services and other people in more relevant and natural ways. It builds on and extends the power of the Bing, Microsoft Azure, Office 365 and Windows platforms to empower developers everywhere.”
So what is conversational intelligence and why is it so important? We are moving into a future where we can expect to see messaging technology acting intelligently, with interfaces that allow collaborative tasks, such as song sharing or allowing your friend to control your Nest thermostat. This is part of a larger industry trend of building bots and virtual assistants that can handle the smaller tasks of life through simple voice or swipe command. Microsoft’s acquisition of Wand Labs signals their willingness to bring on new talent to move their capabilities beyond what they’ve already done with Cortana, the company’s personal assistant app.
Wand Labs was founded by Vishal Sharma, a veteran of Google who has been ahead of the intelligent apps curve for years. His expertise will be a big asset as Microsoft makes inroads in third party developer integration, semantic ontology and service mapping. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella calls this “Conversation as a Platform,” and will be integral to the future integration of all the disparate tech we use on a daily basis. Stay tuned to see what the Wand and Microsoft team will roll out in the near future.