Friday, September 13, 2013

Intel Has Acquired Natural Language Processing Startup Indisys, Price “North” Of $26M, To Build Its AI Muscle

Intel has quietly made another international acquisition in its push into artificial intelligence technology: it has bought Indisys, a Spanish startup focused on naturual language recognition. The terms of the deal have not been disclosed, but it is reportedly “north” of €20 million ($26 million). It comes just two months after news broke that Intel acquired Omek, an Israeli maker of gesture-based interfaces, reportedly for about $40 million. We have reached out to Intel for direct confirmation of the deal and to ask about the price and further specifics: for now, there have been press reports (in Spanish, example) and a news release from Inveready, one of the Indisys’ early investors. Update: Inveready appears to have taken the news release down after I published this story. That release had noted that Pilar Manchon, CEO of Indisys, has already moved to Santa Clara to work in Intel’s R&D department, and that the company had employed 20 people prior to the exit. (Inveready, who declined to comment for this story, has a track record with Spanish startup exits: it was also a backer of PasswordBank, acquired by Symantec for $25 million.) Indisys has been in operation since 2003, and that last funding injection was specifically to help build out its business into international markets. Based in Seville, Indisys’ dialogue-based systems have been used by Spanish companies like the retailing giant El Corte Ingles, insurance group Mapfre and the banking giant BBVA, across multiple platforms like web and mobile. Indisys is a developer of natural language recognition technology, but also Siri-like intelligent assistant (IA) interfaces so that people can interact with it. Pictured here is “Maya,” one of its creations. Other clients like Boeing have been using Indisys’ technology for a project called Atlantis, to create interfaces to control unmanned vehicles. While many of its reference customers are Spanish, the company says has developed multilingual technology. Indisys writes that its IA “is a human image, which converses fluently and with common sense in multiple languages ​​and also works in different platforms.” As with Intel’s Omek acquisition, there are likely a couple of reasons behind the purchase of Indisys. The first is that it is part of Intel larger moves into 3D visualization and “perceptual computing”, Intel’s term for gesture, touch, voice, and other artificial intelligence-style sensory technologies. This is also the focus of a $100 million investment fund Intel launched in April 2013. The second is that voice recognition technology is being worked directly into Intel’s processor business. Indeed, just earlier this week, Intel presented devices that showed off the company’s advances in gesture and natural language recognition business. While there has been speculation that Intel would license technology from companies like Nuance to build it into its own systems, the Indisys deal is an indication that Intel is getting more serious and wants to build and ultimately control this technology itself instead. Intel was not a stranger to Indisys: its venture arm, Intel Capital, led a $5 million Series A investment into the company in November 2012, raising just over $6 million in total. Given that Omek was also a portfolio company, it’s another sign of the tight integration between what Intel is doing on a strategic level as a business, and what it does on a VC level, something you can’t say for all corporate VC arms.

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