Microsoft bought a Samsung-backed startup and signed a top expert in its quest to build better robots

Maluuba Sam Pasupalak Kaheer SulemanMaluubaMaluuba CTO Kaheer Suleman (left) and CEO Sam Pasupalak (right)

Microsoft has purchased Maluuba, a Samsung-backed artificial intelligence startup based in Montreal, in its quest to build better, smarter artificial intelligence that can be used in the workplace, the company says in a blog post.

And as part of the deal, Maluuba advisor Yoshua Bengio — a University of Montreal professor who also happens to be a leading authority on artificial intelligence — will be signing on with Microsoft in an advisory role, working directly with Microsoft Research boss Harry Shum.

This acquisition reflects a big strategic imperative for Microsoft, as it banks that its combination of artificial intelligence expertise, plus its deep hooks into the business software that people use every day, will give it a big leg up as Amazon and Google make increasing inroads into the enterprise IT market.

As for what Maluuba actually does: “Maluuba’s vision is to advance toward a more general artificial intelligence by creating literate machines that can think, reason and communicate like humans — a vision exactly in line with ours,” Shum writes in that blog entry.

In a more material sense, Shum lays out a scenario where a Maluuba-powered bot could help you sift through piles of emails, documents, and directories to find the best tax experts in your company, delivering an instant answer, rather than just a dumb search bar that returns every single file that mentions “tax law.”

That’s helpful for Microsoft, as it builds out the capabilities of Windows 10’s Cortana virtual assistant to fill more roles and answer more questions in the workplace, as a counterpoint to the more consumer-focused Amazon Alexa.

Maluuba had raised a relatively modest $11 million in venture capital funding since it was founded in 2011, including seed funding from Samsung Ventures.

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