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Tech Giants Are Gobbling Up AI Startups

It's no surprise that tech companies are eager to stay abreast of AI developments. When they're not luring AI talents with huge compensation packages, they're on the lookout for AI startups suitable for acquisition.

It’s no surprise that tech companies are eager to stay abreast of AI developments. When they’re not luring AI talents with huge compensation packages, they’re on the lookout for AI startups suitable for acquisition. According to a CBInsight report, over 250 private companies using AI algorithms across different verticals have been acquired since 2012, with 37 acquisitions taking place in Q1’17 alone.
Image retrieved via CBInsight

Google and Apple’s Global Acquisitions

Google tops the acquisition chart with 13 known adds since 2013, doubling Microsoft or Amazon’s numbers. The acquisitions have a diverse geographical distribution — early pickups DNNresearch and Granata Decision Systems were Canadian, while 2014 acquisitions DeepMind Technologies, Vision Factory, and Dark Blue Labs were based in the UK. In 2016 the company purchased Paris-based computer vision startup Moodstocks, and last year acquired Bengaluru startup Halli Labs and Belarus-based AIMatter. Back home in California, Google pocketed predictive modeling and analytics competitions platform Kaggle to further deepen its talent pool.

Following closely behind with eight acquisitions, Apple is also aggressively adding international startups to its AI portfolio. In 2014 it acquired Novauris Technologies and Vocal IQ from the UK, followed by Indian data-mining startup Tuplejump and Israeli facial recognition company RealFace. Apple also bought US-based Lattice Data, a company that uses AI inference engines to sort unstructured data.

Facebook’s Computer Vision Collection

Facebook meanwhile has made a number of pricey vertical domain acquisitions in computer vision, designed to streamline with the company’s high-profile moves in AR. In 2012 they bought Tel Aviv-based technology company, which developed a platform for efficient and accurate facial recognition in photos.

Fast forward to 2016 and the company’s acquisition of another computer vision company, Zurich Eye, which is now operating as a subsidiary of Oculus VR. Facebook’s purchase of Masquerade Technologies Inc. targets live video for customer interaction along with masquerade face tracking and 3D Effects Rendering SDK, which integrates video filters into iOS and Mac OS X applications. The company also grabbed German computer vision startup Fayteq, which has developed a process for adding or removing objects from videos using computer vision.

Chip Companies Battle It Out

Qualcomm acquired the University of Amsterdam spinoff Scyfer, which builds generalized AI solutions for industries such as manufacturing, healthcare, and finance. As the company targets mobile applications and industrial IoT, some industry insiders believe Scyfer will function as a software unit to support Qualcomm’s hardware endeavors.

VentureBeat describes Intel’s approach to acquisitions as a “binge” — the world chip leader has invested over US$1 billion in AI companies. It picked up deep learning and computer vision processor chip manufacturer Movidius in 2016, releasing the Movidius Myriad X chip on the acquisition’s first anniversary. Intel also added AI software companies Nervana Systems and Itseez last year to rebrand towards more AI-oriented tasks.

What’s to Come?

AI startups are hot properties, and even traditional manufacturing companies are getting in the game. Last summer American car maker Ford shelled out US$1 billion for Argo AI, a move aimed at developing a virtual driver system. As we move through 2018 we can expect big tech and other deep pocketed players to further accelerate the pace of startup acquisitions.

Journalist: Meghan Han | Editor: Michael Saracen

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