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Microsoft Acquires AI Startup Maluuba

By Victor Thomson , Jan 14, 2017 03:36 AM EST
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Microsoft just acquired an AI startup called Maluuba that can outperform Google and Facebook. (Photo : Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Microsoft has acquired Canadian Montreal-based artificial intelligence (AI) startup Maluuba.

Microsoft Acquires Maluuba

Details about the acquisition have been posted on Maluuba's company blog. Microsoft is expected to leverage the company's expertise in natural language processing. Maluuba has been founded by University of Waterloo grads Sam Pasupalak and Kaheer Suleman. According to TechCrunch, they participated in 2012 San Francisco Startup Battlefield competition. Maluuba focuses on pursuing general artificial intelligence and building computers that can simulate the way people think.

The Montreal-based company is using reinforcement learning and deep learning in order to increase the effectiveness and proficiency of computer-based systems that can make decisions and answer questions. According to a blog post by Microsoft, Maluuba's work will help with the tech giant's broad goal of making artificial intelligence more useful and accessible to the general public.

Maluuba has been working on improving computer systems' ability to understand natural dialog between individuals, to comprehend what they're reading and to get better at tasks like common-sense reasoning, memory and finding information when missing from their own knowledge. These are great problems to be solved by the artificial intelligence industry. According to Maluuba, it became clear that the best way to make progress in these AI fields is to tap into the significant resources made available from a larger partner.

The startup's goals with AI align with those of Microsoft, Maluuba said in its announcement of the news. The tech giant also offers access to billions of users, as well as talent support and infrastructure, in addition to financial resources.

Montreal is starting to accumulate exquisite expertise in AI that is also gaining global attention. For instance, the search giant Google recently invested funds in local academic efforts and opened there a research office focused on AI.

Maluuba advisor and leading global AI researcher Yoshua Bengio is also joining Microsoft as an advisor. Bengio heads the Montreal Institute for Learning Algorithms. By gaining access to Bengio's expertise, Microsoft will have much to gain, especially as all major tech companies are focusing on AI research and product development, investing considerable resources.

Startup Maluuba's Legacy

Maluuba impressed by demonstrating a virtual assistant product early in startup's life cycle. For intelligent software, cross-domain expertise is typically difficult. Up to date, the most successful efforts in AI have focused on a narrow domain focus. However, Maluuba's more general focus can lead to product breakthroughs for the big players in tech.

The deep learning approach to artificial intelligence is currently very trendy, as it has driven over the last five years some incredible gains in the field.  Microsoft has recently set new milestones for image and speech recognition by using deep learning techniques. With this acquisition, the company is establishing firm grounds for the next big thing in AI, machine literacy

Maluuba's AI expertise can help developing machine reading and writing applications. According to The Verge, in the summer of 2016, the startup announced an AI system that could read and comprehend text with near human capability. Maluuba's machine literacy system is outperforming similar systems shown off by Facebook and Google.

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