Microsoft just bought an AI startup that can outperform Facebook and Google

Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Microsoft announced this morning that it has acquired Maluuba, a Toronto startup focused on using deep learning for natural language processing. Deep learning is an approach to artificial intelligence currently in vogue that has driven incredible gains in the field over the last five years. As Microsoft wrote in the blog post announcing the purchase, “We’ve recently set new milestones for speech and image recognition using deep learning techniques, and with this acquisition we are, as Wayne Gretzky would say, skating to where the puck will be next — machine reading and writing.”

The Verge covered Maluuba in the summer of 2016, when the startup shared the results of an AI system that could read and comprehend text with near human capability, outperforming similar systems shown off by Google and Facebook. Along with acquiring the company, Microsoft has also established closer ties with Yoshua Bengio, a pioneer in the field of deep learning who served as an advisor to Maluuba, and will now become and advisor to Microsoft’s AI division.

A system like this could be integrated with Cortana, Microsoft’s digital assistant, to help consumers deal with everyday chores like email. Imagine a system that doesn’t just know what emails you receive, but also knows the critical information in each message is. For Microsoft’s enterprise services, the possibilities go much deeper.

“Imagine a future where, instead of frantically searching through your organization’s directory, documents or emails to find the top tax-law experts in your company, for example, you could communicate with an AI agent that would leverage Maluuba’s machine comprehension capabilities to immediately respond to your request,” Microsoft wrote in its blog post. “The agent would be able to answer your question in a company security-compliant manner by having a deeper understanding of the contents of your organization’s documents and emails, instead of simply retrieving a document by keyword matching, which happens today. This is just one of hundreds of scenarios we could imagine as Maluuba pushes the state-of-the-art technology of machine literacy.”

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