May 21, 2018

Microsoft buys Berkeley startup to boost its speech AI effort

Team members from Semantic Machines. Photo: Microsoft

Microsoft said on Sunday it has acquired Semantic Machines, a Berkeley, Calif,-based company working on speech chatbots capable of natural speech.

Why it matters: The move comes just after Google debuted its impressive, but controversial Duplex speech technology at Google I/O.

Microsoft didn't disclose financial details, but said it would establish a new conversational AI center in Berkeley. The leadership of Semantic Machines includes tech entrepreneur Dan Roth as well as UC Berkeley professor Dan Klein, Stanford University professor Percy Liang and former Apple chief speech scientist Larry Gillick.

Semantic Machines had raised $21 million from investors including Bain Capital Ventures, General Catalyst, founder Justin Kan and former Yahoo CTO Ray Stata.

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The big picture: President Trump and his administration have used every available tool to try to crack down on local governments that refuse to hold immigrants in criminal custody, block immigration agents from working in county jails or deny federal authorities access to immigrants' records.

Peter Thiel's Founders Fund isn't really Peter Thiel's Founders Fund

Illustration: Photo Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios. Photos: Charles Eshelman, Steve Jennings, and Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Founders Fund has raised $3 billion for a pair of new funds, so expect a slew of headlines about how "Peter Thiel's venture capital firm" is now flush with cash.

Behind the scenes: Thiel is essential to Founders Fund, but he's not autocratic. Instead, Axios has learned that he's one of three people with veto power over most FF investments, and is unable to do a deal without approval of the other two.