Apple, Intel Add More Flavor To AI Deals
August seems to be the month of acquisitions, particularly in the Artificial Intelligence (AI) space. Recently, chip giant Intel announced its plans to buy Nervana Systems, close on the heels of iPhone maker Apple’s announcement on the buyout of machine-learning startup, Turi. In recent times, technology companies are teaming up with startups in the field of AI to outdo competition in the space.
Intel is strengthening its AI efforts by acquiring the two-year-old San Diego, California-based startup Nervana Systems, which has already grabbed much attention for its machine learning technology. The chip maker sees AI as the next big shift inside corporate data centers.
Nervana Systems, run by Indian-origin entrepreneur Naveen Rao, has built an extensive machine learning system that runs on an open-sourced software platform. The platform is reportedly used for everything from analyzing seismic data to find promising places to drill for oil to looking at plant genomes in search of new hybrids. Analysts believe Nervana brings expertise on the software side. It also has the expertise on designs for specialized chips that can be further improved with Intel’s chipmaking know-how.
Intel declined to disclose the price for the deal, but a source with knowledge of the deal told Re/Code, it is valued at around USD 408 million and is expected to close in about one month.
“After transitioning from mainframes to PCs to servers to cloud-based data centers, computing is about to make another transition,” Intel vice president Jason Waxman, who runs the data center solutions group told Fortune. “Right now, we’re on the precipice of the next big wave, artificial intelligence…We’re already seeing real deployments,” he said.
Until now, Intel’s core focus on machine learning was on adapting its popular line of Xeon general purpose computing chips for use in machine learning and artificial intelligence deployments. According to The Wall Street Journal, last year, it released a powerful version of the chip, called Xeon Phi, to outdo graphics chips from Nvidia and others having large-scale parallel processing capabilities.
Initially, the new chips will be aimed at cloud data centers, where big companies are making extensive use of machine learning, Intel’s Waxman says. But eventually the technology will wind its way into smart devices such as self-driving cars and wearables to fuel the growth of the Internet of things, he says.
Nervana’s platform had been running on Nvidia chips previously. The startup’s chip design “slots in perfectly with this Intel acquisition,” said CEO Naveen Rao, who worked at Qualcomm before co-founding Nervana in 2014.
Another report from Geekwire stated that Apple has snapped up AI startup Turi for USD 200 million. This clearly indicates Apple’s ambition to be at par with Google, Facebook and Amazon in this space. Apple, known to buy smaller companies, reportedly said in a statement, “Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans.”
The Turi team, that will be working from Seattle, has several developer tools that help build AI solutions. However, it isn’t clear whether it’s the tools or talent that Apple targets with this acquisition.
This acquisition doesn’t come as a surprise as Tim Cook had discussed a shift to newer technologies like artificial intelligence and augmented reality during the company’s earnings call. However, it should be noticed that it isn’t the first-ever AI-based acquisition as Apple has previously bought Perceptio and natural language-processing company, VocalIQ.
Google is among the Silicon Valley titans investing in ways to get computers to see and understand the world around them the way people do. Machine learning has been woven into an array of Google offerings, such as its free language translation and photo services. Google has announced a deal to acquire Moodstock, a French startup that builds technology which helps smartphone devices recognize images and objects. The acquisition is aimed at boosting AI development of Google.
Google Chief Executive Sundar Pichai revealed new products and services that use smarter software to make decisions rather than follow instructions, part of a major push into artificial intelligence that would define the tech giant over the next decade. In a letter to employees, Pichai had said earlier this year that Google also wants to have seamless integration across all of its services, and so, more services to be powered by AI and machine learning will be in the offing.
Earlier in February, Microsoft announced the buyout of SwiftKey, whose technology sifts through millions of typed-in keyboard combinations and collects that data in hopes of correctly guessing what you’re entering even before you finish typing. The deal in the range of USD 250 million is enabling Microsoft to dive deeper into intelligent assistance with Cortana.
Experts believe the rapidly widening applications of AI is driving the space. In general terms, AI refers to machines doing intellectual tasks at a level comparable to humans. That means reasoning, planning, learning, and using language to communicate at a high level. It also includes sensing and interacting with the physical world, as Stephen Hawking’s commented, AI has the potential to ‘supersede’ humanity. An initial cycle of excitement about the technology arose in the 1980s and later fizzled, but interest has boomed in recent years due to breakthroughs in the field known as machine learning, especially in the specific area of deep learning.