Intel, Apple continue race for AI startups acquisitions

By Souvik Das | Published on 10 Aug 2016
Intel, Apple continue race for AI startups acquisitions

The smaller houses of innovation are all being picked up by the giants in a bid to stay ahead of competition.

A report originating yesterday stated that Intel is acquiring Nervana Systems, a startup that meddles with deep learning algorithm and artificially intelligent corporate data centers. Word on the street suggests that the behemoth chipmaker has paid nearly $408 million as part of the acquisition deal, a staggering amount for a young startup, albeit highly specialised and equipped. The deal can be highly beneficial for both the parties. Intel has already invested its time and resources into deep neural networks and machine learning, and acquiring exciting startups remain key to advancement of technology beyond Intel’s own portfolio. As for Nervana, it sums up everything in this very apt statement:

"No matter how much we raised, we would not have access to the same kind of technology as we will have at Intel"

Apple, meanwhile, has been on an acquisition spree for a while. The Cupertino-based company has previously acquired the likes of Perceptio, Vocal IQ (an AI startup similar in nature to its own Siri) and Emotient Inc., a startup that uses deep neural networks to assess facial expressions and read emotions. Not to be left behind, the company went and splurged $200 million on Turi - a firm that specialises in building AI solutions for multiple purposes. True to Apple’s nature, the company has not disclosed anything regarding how it intends to make use of Turi’s services, or how this alters the shape of Apple’s rising inventory of AI technology and equipment. CEO Tim Cook had stated that the company is increasingly shifting its focus to AI solutions for all its innovation, and it is safe to presume that Turi falls somewhere within Apple’s new game plan.

All of this is far from being new or surprising. The race for acquiring exciting Silicon Valley startups has been ongoing for a while now, as companies have ascertained that deep neural networks, machine learning and artificially intelligent solutions are indeed the way to go forward. Since 2011, between Intel, Google, Apple, IBM, AOL, Yahoo!, Microsoft and Salesforce, there has been 34 reported takeovers of startups working with artificial intelligence. Google has led the charts with nine acquisitions, the most notable of which remains DeepMind, creators of the world-record holder AlphaGo. Google’s intent, it seems, is on creating a precedent of artificial intelligence’s power, how it can be tamed and to how far can it reach.

Intel, meanwhile, has made very specific acquisitions. Its acquisition of IndiSys was in the field of natural language processing, while the following startups were in the field of cognitive computing and computer vision & pattern recognition. The company has catered to innovating the necessary hardware, and the network that should form the framework of tomorrow’s quantum computing devices, all capable of machine learning on an advanced scale. This is further different from Microsoft’s acquisitions, which has stuck to acquiring software startups that use deep learning to optimise the end-user experience. Check out SwiftKey and Wand, for instance. While SwiftKey has been commercially available and aims to learn the most from the way you type so that it can literally predict your next statement, Wand is more experimental, working with natural language processing and communication - something that CEO Satya Nadella had mentioned to build Microsoft’s Bing Intelligence and Conversation as a platform.

All of this, though, gives out a very clear message. Artificial intelligence and futuristic computing is already upon us, and the labs of these tech behemoths are the most exciting zones of innovation right now. What is being commercially released right now may seem gradual and incremental, but in the long run, the billions of dollars that these companies have spent together will translate to dividends of intelligent computing being accepted commercially worldwide.

Intel and Apple’s latest acquisitions simply reiterate this.

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