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, Justin.tv founder Justin Kan and former Yahoo CTO Ray Stata.

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A major explosion has slammed central Beirut, Lebanon, and damaged buildings as far as several miles away.

Driving the news: The cause of the explosion is unknown, as are details of potential deaths and injuries. It comes as Lebanon grapples with a crippling financial crisis and the ongoing effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

Updated 50 mins ago - Politics & Policy

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President Trump said twice Monday that the U.S. Treasury would need to get a portion of the sale price of TikTok, as a condition of regulatory approval.

Why it matters: This is akin to extortion — the sort of thing you'd expect to hear on a wiretap, not from the White House in front of reporters.