Microsoft leases office space from UC Berkeley, focuses on artificial intelligence

Vanessa Lim/Staff

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Microsoft opened an office in Berkeley this month and is still in the process of moving in.

The close proximity to UC Berkeley allows Microsoft’s Bay Area base to be better partners with those it sponsors, such as the Berkeley Artificial Intelligence Research Lab — co-located in the building — Real-Time Intelligent Secure Explainable Systems and the Simons Institute, according to Microsoft spokesperson Joshua Luebke.

“This year Microsoft brought several AI (Artificial Intelligence) and research-based teams together at a new site in Berkeley,” Microsoft stated in a blog post. “Having a physical presence near U.C. Berkeley, a renowned institution for research and education, complements the academic nature and learning mindset of the teams located here.”

The location on Shattuck Avenue in the Berkeley Way West building holds a workspace for two AI companies bought by Microsoft last year. One of the companies, Bonsai, is the Autonomous Systems team working on AI for machine teaching, and the other, Semantic Machines, works on AI for natural language processing.

Microsoft now leases the entire seventh floor of the building, according to Aileen Dolby, Colliers International executive vice president representing the Berkeley Way West building. Dolby added that the city of Berkeley offers more space and is less expensive than Oakland or San Francisco.

Campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof said in an email Microsoft was searching for an office space in Berkeley before agreeing to the terms of its lease with the campus.

“It could have easily been another tenant,” Mogulof said in the email. “But we are very pleased that an industry leader, one with strong, existing ties to our campus community, has determined that Berkeley is a place they need to be due to the discoveries, innovations, and enterprises that are being produced by our faculty and students.”

According to the Microsoft blog post, Microsoft hopes to educate students on the availability of career opportunities in technical fields and encourage interaction with the local academic community.

Bennett Agnew, spokesperson for the UC Berkeley electrical engineering and computer sciences department, or EECS, noted in an email that students and faculty in EECS have historically maintained close ties with the industry.

Agnew added that startups and large companies moving to or opening offices in the East Bay is an “overdue” recognition of Berkeley as a “world-leading intellectual center.”

“Berkeley houses supremely talented and innovative thinkers in every discipline, so it only makes sense that some companies would desire physical proximity to potential collaborators and expert advice,” Agnew said in the email. “Faculty and students from both Stanford and Berkeley played an indispensable role in the early development of Silicon Valley, and only time will tell if a comparable ecosystem emerges in the East Bay.”

Olivia Buccieri is the lead business and economy reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @obuccieri_dc‏.

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Bonsai and Semantic Machines are both the autonomous systems team. In fact, Bonsai is the Autonomous Systems team working on AI for machine teaching and Semantic Machines works on AI for natural language processing.