Microsoft buys Wand Labs to add more natural language tech to messaging apps and bots

Microsoft, hot on the heels of the news that it is buying LinkedIn for $26.2 billion, has announced yet another acquisition, this time in the area of natural language and artificial intelligence: the company has purchased Wand Labs, a startup that develops messaging apps — and specifically technology behind them that lets them act more intelligently (beyond and alongside our own intelligent interactions on them, of course).

The deal is part of Microsoft’s bigger strategy to build out “conversation as a platform,” and the team will join Microsoft’s Bing engineering and platform team to work on intelligent agents and chat bots.

Terms of the deal are not being disclosed. Wand Labs, founded by Vishal Sharma in 2013, had raised less than $3 million in funding, according to CrunchBase.

In a blog post, David Ku of Microsoft’s Information Platform Group notes that “Wand Labs’ technology and talent will strengthen our position in the emerging era of conversational intelligence” — that is, applying more technology and natural language expertise to improve how we humans can “talk” in messaging services with machines. Areas that the startup had been working on included semantic ontologies, services mapping, third-party developer integration and conversational interfaces.

Third-party developer integration especially is key when you consider how other companies are developing both “assistants” and messaging platforms that are bringing in outside services and creating interfaces for interacting with them and requesting things from them. Facebook’s Messenger and its introduction of Bots; and Amazon’s Echo are two examples.

Although it’s not mentioned in either Microsoft’s blog post or the accompanying post from Wand Labs’ Sharma, this seems to be the kind of tech that will fit in nicely with how Microsoft is developing new services like Cortana, Microsoft’s intelligent assistant app that you can use to pick up information and trigger actions way of voice requests and commands.

“It builds on and extends the power of the Bing, Microsoft Azure, Office 365 and Windows platforms to empower developers everywhere,” Ku simply writes.

It sounds like Wand Labs hadn’t gotten too far in its own exploration of how to apply this technology itself before getting acquired. The company’s existing apps have already been removed from the Android and Apple app stores.

“I’m proud of the work my team has done and what we’ve already accomplished in this emerging space – and I’m delighted to be joining a company that shares our passion and enthusiasm for this new era where conversation is the central focus. Making experiences for customers more seamless by harnessing human language is a powerful vision and one that motivates me and my team,” Sharma writes.

“Our deep experience with semantics, messaging and authority are a natural fit for the work already underway at Microsoft, especially in the area of intelligent agents and cognitive services. For those of you who have participated in our rolling trials, I want to say thank you. Even though we will be shutting down our service, expect to see familiar elements of our work in the future. I encourage all of you to stay tuned. This is an exciting moment for the industry and we’ve only just begun.”

More to come.