The race for artificial intelligence … Google, Twitter, Apple rush to buy startups

The world’s leading technology companies are racing to buy artificial intelligence startups with 34 acquired in the first quarter of this year, according to research firm CB Insights; more than twice the amount compared with the same period last year.

Google has acquired 11 AI startups since 2012, the most of any firm, followed by Apple, Facebook and Intel. Over 200 companies using AI algorithms across different verticals have been acquired since 2012, Ford, Samsung, GE, and Uber are emerging as new entrants, said CB Insights. The first quarter saw one of the largest deals to date as Ford invested $1bn in Argo AI, founded by former executives of self-driving teams at Google and Uber.

In 2013, Google acquired deep learning and neural network startup DNNresearch from the computer science department at Toronto University, an acquisition which reportedly helped it improve image search. The following year, Google bought UK-based DeepMind Technologies, in 2015 visual search startup Moodstock and bot platform Api.ai and this year predictive analytics platform Kaggle.

Apple has been ramping up its its acquistion activity, and ranked second with a total of seven acquisitions, said CB Insights, and it recently acquired Tel Aviv-based RealFace. Intel, Microsoft, and Facebook are tied for third place. Intel acquired 3 startups in 2016 alone: Itseez, Nervana Systems, and Movidius, while Facebook acquired Belarus-based Masquerade Technologies and Switzerland-based Zurich Eye. Microsoft acquired Genee and conversational AI startup Maluuba.  

Twitter is the next most-active acquirer, with four major acquisitions, the most recent being image-processing startup Magic Pony. Salesforce, which joined the race in 2015 with the acquisition of Tempo AI, made two major acquisitions last year: Khosla Ventures-backed MetaMind and open-source machine-learning server PredictionIO. GE made two acquisitions in 2016: AI-IoT startup Bit Stew Systems, and CRM-focused Wise.io.