Microsoft acquires bot studio XOXCO to boost conversational AI offerings

(Microsoft Photo)

Microsoft has acquired XOXCO, an Austin-based company that builds bots and conversational artificial intelligence tools, the latest in a series of deals to boost the tech giant’s AI bonafides.

XOXCO is a five-year-old company that was responsible for Howdy, the first commercially available bot on Slack that helps users schedule meetings. Microsoft and XOXCO have teamed up together in the past, and the company also built Botkit, which provides developer tools to users on GitHub.

In a blog post, Microsoft said it sees a “world where natural language becomes the new user interface,” helping people be more productive. The acquisition will help beef up the Microsoft Bot Framework service, which supports more than 360,000 developers today.

The deal for XOXCO comes amid a series of announcement out of an AI event in San Francisco today. As part of that, Microsoft unveiled a new set of open-source tools to help businesses build out their own branded digital assistant. This development shows Microsoft is interested in getting customers to use its developer tools under the hood just as much, if not more, than adopting its own digital assistant Cortana.

Microsoft itself has experienced how things can go south in the world of conversational bots, as demonstrated by the troubled “Tay” chat bot experiment. As part of today’s announcements, Microsoft shared new guidelines for responsible development of conversational AI.

Microsoft’s acquisition of XOXCO fits a pattern of AI purchases throughout the year. In May, Microsoft acquired a Berkley, Calif. company called Semantic Machines, which, like XOXCO, focuses on conversational AI. A month later, Microsoft announced a deal to buy Bonsai, a San Francisco-based startup that helps enterprise companies add machine learning and AI capabilities into their existing operations. In September, Microsoft acquired Lobe, another San Francisco that creates visual tools for building deep-learning models with a drag-and-drop user interface, rather than lines of code.