Microsoft acquires Waterloo-based AI startup Maluuba

Canadian startup Maluuba, which is focused on helping machines learn, think, and communicate like humans, has just been acquired by Microsoft. Maluuba has offices in Kitchener-Waterloo and Montreal.

In a blog post, the company suggested that it is at a point where its complex tech requires ‘significant resources’ in order to scale.

“Our team has focused on the areas of machine reading comprehension, dialogue understanding, and general (human) intelligence capabilities such as memory, common-sense reasoning, and information seeking behaviour,” the post reads. “Our early research achievements in these domains accelerated our need to scale our team rapidly; it was apparent that we needed to bolster our work with significant resources to advance towards solving artificial general intelligence.”

Maluuba is working to make machines understand human language, which it calls the “holy grail” in the field of AI. In December, Maluuba released two natural language understanding datasets with the goal of advancing breakthroughs in artificial intelligence research. BetaKit also recently sat down with the Montreal-based Maluuba team to learn more about their approach to developing artificial intelligence, which places high importance on language.

Related: Maluuba team explains why language is the key to making machines intelligent

“We are focused on language, which I think helps to differentiate ourselves from the other labs who do almost everything,” product manager Rahul Malhotra said at the time. “They’ll do images and sound and video and text, whereas Maluuba is extremely focused on language, and written language more than anything else.”

According to Maluuba’s hiring manager, the company plans to stay in Canada. In the company’s blog post, Maluuba thanks Yoshua Bengio, a machine learning pioneer and co-founder of Montreal’s Element AI, and professor Richard Sutton, whom they call a pioneer of reinforcement learning.

The company also indicated that it will continue to work with the Montreal AI community and pursue global collaboration.

In Microsoft’s own blog post, Harry Shum, EVP of Microsoft’s AI and research group, said that Microsoft will share more plans with Maluuba in the coming months.

“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,” said Shum. “I’ve been in the AI research and development field for more than 20 years now, and I’m incredibly excited about the scenarios that this acquisition could make possible in conversational AI.”

Shum said that Bengio would advise Microsoft’s AI and research group, and indicated that Maluuba’s engineering and research teams will join Microsoft’s Artificial Intelligence and Research organization. A Microsoft spokesperson, Melissa Hovis, told BetaKit that most, if not all of Maluuba would join the tech giant.

“Microsoft’s immense technical resources including back-end infrastructure (i.e. Microsoft’s Azure and GPU infrastructure) and engineering talent will help [Maluuba] accelerate its pace in conducting research and bringing solutions to market,” Hovis said. “In short, our new partnership enables [Maluuba] to advance more quickly toward our vision of creating literate machines.”

This story is developing

Jessica Galang

Jessica Galang

Jessica Galang is BetaKit's News Editor. Follow her on Twitter @jessicagalangg or send her pitches to jessica.galang@betakit.com.