Microsoft to Acquire Bot Developer XOXCO

Microsoft today announced plans to acquire XOXCO, a software developer with a focus on bot design, making it the fifth AI-related company Microsoft has purchased in the past six months. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

XOXCO, which is based in Austin, Texas, was founded in 2013. Since then, it has been responsible for the creation of Howdy, the first commercially available bot for Slack, and BotKit, which provides the development tools used by hundreds of thousands of developers on GitHub.

"With this acquisition, we are continuing to realize our approach of democratizing AI development, conversation, and dialog and integrating conversational experiences where people communicate," Lili Cheng, corporate vice president in charge of conversational AI at Microsoft, wrote in a blog post earlier today.

The acquisition complements Microsoft's own Bot Framework, which is available as a service on Azure, Microsoft's cloud-based developer platform, and GitHub. The Bot Framework currently supports more than 360,000 developers, according to Microsoft.

Conversational AI, Cheng said, "is quickly becoming a way in which businesses engage with employees and customers: from creating virtual assistants and redesigning customer interactions to using conversational assistants to help employees communicate and work better together."

Previous Microsoft acquisitions around AI included conversational AI developer Semantic Machines in May, AI development kit provider Bonsai in July, visual interface creator Lobe in September, and AI development platform provider GitHub in October. All of these demonstrate Microsoft's "belief in the power of communities to help fuel the next wave of bot development," Cheng said.

The acquisition is one of several Microsoft AI news stories today. The software giant also today launched a new template for quick deployment of branded virtual assistants, with pre-made skills for activities like finding local services, answering simple questions, and more. The software accelerator, which is based on the Microsoft Bot Framework, also includes calendar, points of interest, linked accounts, and to-do lists.

Microsoft today also announced a huge infusion of AI into its Power BI business analytics systems. The new AI features, which are available in preview, include image recognition and text analytics, key driver analysis, machine learning model creation, and Azure Machine Learning integration.

The new image recognition and text analytics capabilities will aid Microsoft's Azure Cognitive Services to identify patterns in data, analyze sentiments, recognize images, and detect keywords and phrases in documents, images, social media posts, and more.

Also new in Power BI is a key driver analysis feature that helps the application track performance metrics by surfacing, analyzing, and ranking key data points; and an AI model builder, a simplified version of Azure Machine Learning's automated machine learning tools. Complementing those features, Power BI now integrates with Azure Machine Learning, allowing AI models built in Azure to be shared within Power BI.

"Our goal is to make AI accessible and valuable to every individual and organization, amplifying human ingenuity with intelligent technology. To do this, Microsoft is infusing intelligence across all its products and services to extend individuals' and organizations' capabilities and make them more productive, providing a powerful platform of AI services and tools that makes innovation by developers and partners faster and more accessible, and helping transform business by enabling breakthroughs to current approaches and entirely new scenarios that leverage the power of intelligent technology," Cheng said.