Google Snaps-up API.ai Startup To Boost Natural Language Capabilities

Google has bought speech recognition and natural language startup API.ai in a bid to boost its software’s abilities to parse and understand natural language.

As it’s name would suggest, API.ai provides application programming interfaces (APIs) that developers can use to bake-in natural language interaction capabilities into their apps and services, as well as use the APIs as a foundation for chatbots for services such as Slack.

“API.ai offers one of the leading conversational user interface platforms and they’ll help Google empower developers to continue building great natural language interfaces,” said Google’s vice president of engineering Scott Huffman.

Smarter software

Google has remained tight-lipped on how exactly it will make use of the acquisition of API.ai, though Huffman said more details are forthcoming.

The Californian startup’s APIs have found their way into the hands of over 60,000 developers and into services such as Facebook Messenger and Kik.

So Google is likely to mix the natural language interface APIs with its own work on the technology, seen with the likes of Allo, an artificial intelligence (AI) based messaging service which makes heavy use of natural language and voice recognition.

While Google’s natural language recognition efforts seem to be predominately focused on consumer apps, in June it revealed it has been working on an AI assistant to benefit enterprise workers. The smart assistant is aimed at use with Google’s Apps for Work suite, effectively a rival to Microsoft’s Office 365 and a suite which is gaining traction in the enterprise arena.

Dubbed Springboard, the assistant is effectively a version of the Google Now smart service but designed to surface relevant and useful business information as opposed to the normal suite of Google Now data like train times, weather and near by restaurants.

As more devices get smarter and more connected as part of the push towards the Internet of Things (IoT), it is likely many of them will benefit from voice control and natural language recognition. As Google is working on its own smart home controller, the Google Home, it would come as no surprise to see API.ai’s capabilities mixed in with Google’s smart home and IoT efforts.

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Roland Moore-Colyer

As News Editor of Silicon UK, Roland keeps a keen eye on the daily tech news coverage for the site, while also focusing on stories around cyber security, public sector IT, innovation, AI, and gadgets.

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