Apple’s AI acquisitions

| John Davis

Last week, Apple acquired US start-up Emotient. The purchase is the latest in a recent string of AI acquisitions for the tech giant, following Cambridge spin-out Vocal IQ and deep-learning start-up Perception in October 2015.

So, what’s Apple up to?

A spokesperson for the company gave little away, confirming the acquisition of Emotient and stating only that Apple “buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans”. But industry experts have other ideas.

Some reckon the AI acquisitions will be integrated into an updated version of Apple’s Siri. Theo Priestly, though, writing for Forbes Tech, believes Apple ‘is aiming for an interface that completely rewrites how we interact with everything’.

But it’s not just Apple that has big plans for AI tech in 2016. Mark Zuckerberg publicly announced intentions to build his own AI bot this year, adding: “You can think of it kind of like Jarvis in Iron Man”. Google made its intentions clear way back in January 2014, with the acquisition of UK AI start-up DeepMind. And IBM’s Watson is marketing itself, with the help of Bob Dylan, as the practical AI tool for the business world.

Only time will tell what Apple has up its sleeve, but the AI space is undoubtedly fizzing. We track a number of AI start-ups that look set for big things in 2016. Stratified Medical, which was one of our 5 most valuable SMEs of 2015, has developed an AI tool for pharmaceuticals data analysis. In July 2015 the start-up secured an unannounced £7.68m investment.

London-based Rainbird is another Beauhurst-tracked AI start-up. The company, which qualified for the Techstars London W14 programme, secured an undisclosed £710k investment in July from a cohort of investors including Cambridge Capital Group and Growing Business Fund.