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Microsoft Buys Deep Learning Startup Maluuba And Signs Up AI Expert

Sam Pudwell joined Silicon UK as a reporter in December 2016. As well as being the resident Cloud aficionado, he covers areas such as cyber security, government IT and sports technology, with the aim of going to as many events as possible.

Maluuba will join Microsoft’s AI and Research organisation, giving it the resources and scalability to advance its research

Microsoft has agreed to acquire Montreal-based startup Maluuba, which specialises in deep learning and reinforcement learning for question-answering and decision-making systems.

The company’s research on natural language understanding is geared towards the future of conversational artificial intelligence (AI), essentially enabling computers to read, write and converse naturally.

Maluuba will join Microsoft’s AI and Research organisation, giving it the resources and scalability to advance its research.

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Literate AI

Writing on the Microsoft blog, Harry Shum, executive vice president of Microsoft’s Artificial Intelligence and Research Group, said: “Maluuba’s vision is to advance toward a more general artificial intelligence by creating literate machines that can think, reason and communicate like humans — a vision exactly in line with ours.

“Maluuba’s impressive team is addressing some of the fundamental problems in language understanding by modeling some of the innate capabilities of the human brain, from memory and common sense reasoning to curiosity and decision making.”

He gave the example of searching an organisation’s directory, documents or emails for the top experts in tax law in the company. Instead of simply retrieving documents through keyword matching, an AI agent would leverage machine literacy and comprehension capabilities to answer queries in a “security-compliant manner by having a deeper understanding of the contents of your organisation’s documents and emails.”

Maluuba co-founders Sam Pasupalak and Kaheer Suleman described the acquisition as “an important milestone on our journey so far,” which will allow the company to “advance more quickly toward our vision of creating literate machines.”

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New signing

Shum also announced that renowned deep learning expert Yoshua Bengio, currently head of the Montreal Institute for Learning Algorithms, will be taking up an advisory role with Microsoft and working directly with its AI research team.

“As an admirer of Yoshua’s work from a distance, I’m really looking forward to this opportunity to work more closely with him and to benefit from his deep learning systems expertise,” Shum said.

Microsoft has been busy strengthening its love affair with AI over the last few months, setting up an AI-focused investment fund and forming a non-profit AI partnership with other tech giants including Amazon, Google and Facebook.

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