Microsoft today announced it had acquired Maluuba, a Canadian artificial intelligence (AI) and natural language processing technology firm. Financial terms were not disclosed.
Citing the company's progress in speech and image recognition, Microsoft is now setting its sights on "literate machines," according to Harry Shum, executive vice president of Microsoft's Artificial Intelligence and Research Group.
"Maluuba's expertise in deep learning and reinforcement learning for question-answering and decision-making systems will help us advance our strategy to democratize AI and to make it accessible and valuable to everyone—consumers, businesses and developers," said Shum in a Jan. 13 announcement.
Microsoft envisions creating AI-enabled systems that can absorb information and communicate their findings in ways people share information with one another. Maluuba's language understanding technology, modeled after how humans incorporate memory, reasoning, decision making and common sense into their thought processes, caught the tech titan's eye, Shum said.
For Maluuba, being acquired means access to a vastly larger pool of resources.
"Microsoft provides us the opportunity to deliver our work to the billions of consumer and enterprise users that can benefit from the advent of truly intelligent machines," wrote co-founders Sam Pasupalak and Kaheer Suleman in a Jan. 13 blog post.
"In addition, Microsoft's immense technical resources including back-end infrastructure (i.e. Microsoft's Azure and GPU infrastructure) and engineering talent will help us accelerate our pace in conducting research and bringing solutions to market."
And it's a market that's hungry for AI-enabled solutions.
Seeking to boost efficiency, make smarter business decisions and kick their digital transformation efforts into high gear, CIOs are on the lookout for AI technologies that fit the bill. Whit Andrews, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner, told eWEEK that "if you are a very large vendor today, you are in the process of adding expertise around AI as fast as you possibly can."
Inquiries from end-user organizations related to AI, machine learning or both surged by over 200 percent between 2015 and 2016 at Gartner, signaling an intense and growing interest from businesses in AI solutions, Andrews revealed.
IT vendors looking to successfully capitalize on this increasing demand will need to gather the leading minds in the space, Andrews added. "Access to exceptional AI scientists in the absolutely critical," he said.
It's a strategy that Microsoft apparently subscribes to.
In his announcement, Shum announced that Microsoft had brought Yoshua Bengio on as an advisor. Bengio is a professor at the University of Montreal's Department of Computer Science and Operations Research and is considered one of deep learning's "founding fathers" by Maluuba's founders and who helped guide the firm's AI efforts.
As to why Microsoft snapped up Maluuba and is focused on adding a human touch to computing, it all comes down to the way people make sense of the world around them.
"The way that people interact with everything that transforms human life is through mechanisms that are already familiar to us," Andrews said, adding that when all is said and done, people prefer "to interact with computers in a natural fashion that is intuitive to us."