China’s search giant Baidu has made another acquisition to continue its push into artificial intelligence, and specifically carving out a place for itself as a platform for developers who want to create chatbots and other services based on natural language technology. It has acquired Kitt.ai, a profitable startup based out of Seattle that has developed a framework to build and power chatbots and voice-based applications across multiple platforms and devices. Terms of the deal — which was announced on stage at Baidu’s developer event in Beijing, and also confirmed in a blog post from Kitt.ai — are not being disclosed.
Kitt.ai has been around since 2014, but it appears that it had only disclosed a seed round of funding of an unspecified size as a startup. Its backers were Amazon’s Alexa Fund and the Founders Co-op.
Importantly, the company was growing and thriving. It has paying customer across four continents “and we are profitable,” co-founder Xuchen Yao notes in the blog post. Kitt.ai’s tech powers apps for smart phones, speakers, appliances, web chat, cars, homes, conference rooms, offices, hospitals, “and even telephone lines.”
The company had released three products, all of which will remain operational as before: Snowboy (“a customizable hotword detection engine”), NLU (“a multilingual natural language understanding engine”), and ChatFlow (a multi-turn conversation engine that we covered here), and appeared to be built as a cross-platform service, improving its ubiquity.
Kitt.ai has risen with the growing use of natural language applications, from personal assistants and other voice-base apps, through to chatbots that operate through text but also rely on computers and artificial intelligence to be able to ‘interpret’ what a person is asking in order to answer correctly, and said that it now has more than 12,000 developers using Snowboy. It doesn’t disclose user numbers of its other apps but had built ChatFlow as a paid B2B service.
Baidu — like its U.S. counterpart Google — has been investing over many years in building AI expertise and technology, not only to power its own services and whatever moves it plans to make next in search on existing platforms like mobile and computers, but also completely new areas like automotive as a new endpoint for its search technology.
There have been some setbacks in this area, such as the departure earlier this year of Andrew Ng, who had founded Google’s deep learning division Google Brain and was Baidu’s chief data scientist. The company has, however, also been making some key hires, such as Qi Lu, another AI specialist, from Microsoft; and it been making other significant acquisitions to continue building its expertise, such as coputer vision specialist XPerception.
More to come.
Featured Image: Bryce Durbin