Intel Buys Cognitive Computing Vendor Saffron

The chip maker says Saffron's technology will be an asset not only in data center servers but also in IoT and wearable computing devices.

Intel Curie

Intel is pushing deeper into the cognitive computing space with its acquisition of Saffron Technology, a company whose products are designed to mimic the human brain in how it learns and processes information.

Such technology has multiple applications for the giant chip maker, though in announcing the deal, Intel officials focused on not only what it will mean for servers to have cognitive computing capabilities, but also connected consumer devices that make up the fast-growing Internet of things (IoT). While cognitive computing will be a significant benefit to servers as they process and analyze the growing amounts of data being generated by the multiplying number of connected systems, having such capabilities on the devices at the edge of the network will be increasingly important, according to Josh Walden, senior vice president and general manager of Intel's New Technology Group.

New consumer devices "need to see, sense and interpret complex information in real time," Walden said in a post on the company blog. "Big data can happen on small devices, as long as they're smart enough and connected. Saffron's technology, deployed on small devices, can make intelligent local analytics possible in the Internet of Things."

Saffron will become part of Intel's New Technology Group, he wrote, adding that it will not only focus on its own stand-alone business, but also contribute to Intel's work and platforms in a broad range of areas, from new devices and big data to cyber-security, health care and the IoT.

Saffron CEO Gayle Sheppard said becoming part of Intel will help the company rapidly accelerate the adoption of its cognitive computing platform in every area from new personal applications to the IoT.

"We see so many opportunities to apply cognitive computing to assist businesses and consumers in their everyday activities," Sheppard said in a statement posted to the Saffron Website. "Joining Intel is a force multiplier for accomplishing this vision."

Saffron officials on the company Website say their Natural Intelligence Platform "learns instantly," and that their SaffronStreamline and SaffronAdvantage software enable the platform to gain insights into the data the platform is processing.

No financial details of the deal were released.

A growing number of tech companies are delving into cognitive computing and machine learning—also known as "deep learning'—as the industry moves closer to creating artificial intelligence. The goal is to create systems and devices that essentially can take in and process information in ways similar to the human brain, from understanding natural language to being able to learn from what they experience.

"One of the exciting advancements in computer science is the emergence of cognitive computing—software that combines the power of computing with brain-like intelligence to solve and even anticipate complex problems," Walden wrote. "Saffron's unique technology ingests data from disparate sources and automatically connects the dots to help businesses of all kinds improve decision-making."

A growing number of tech vendors are pursuing machine learning and cognitive computing. Most famously, IBM is exploring cognitive learning through its Watson program. Meanwhile, Google is a driving force behind deep learning, working with an array of partners, including Nvidia.

Intel, which has been hurt by being late addressing mobile devices like smartphones and tablets, is looking to be a significant player in the growing IoT and in such areas as wearable devices. Intel not only wants to be a key technology provider for the systems in the back-end data center infrastructure, but also the chip vendor for most of these connected devices. The company already has rolled out a number of platforms for the IoT—including Edison and Galileo—and the Curie module aimed at wearable devices.