Apple has acquired artificial intelligence (AI) startup Emotient in a move suggesting that the company wants to add face pattern analysis to the Siri virtual assistant.
Emotient provides technology that interprets facial emotions to assess people's reactions to different forms of media such as videos and adverts.
The technology has also been used to monitor medical patients for signs of pain and to analyse people's expressions in retail outlets.
The Wall Street Journal reported that Apple has confirmed the acquisition, but the company has given no hints as to what it plans to do with Emotient.
Apple gave its generic response to requests for more details, saying that it “buys smaller technology companies from time to time" and "generally do not discuss our purpose or plans”.
However, it could be speculated that Apple will use Emotient to boost its own AI development, which can be seen most prominently with Siri and the added functionality the virtual assistant has received in the recent updates to Apple’s iOS mobile platform.
Apple keeps all of its plans under wraps, but AI is clearly a focus for the company, evidenced by the purchase of Perceptio in October in a move to boost deep learning technology for iPhones, and the poaching of AI experts from Google, Amazon and Microsoft.
Apple is not alone in exploring AI technology, given the work that Google, Amazon and Microsoft are doing in the field.
Microsoft’s Cortana virtual assistant is particularly one to watch, and arguably the biggest rival to Siri, and the company continues to push Cortana into its portfolio of products.
Equally, Facebook is making a very definite push into AI with the development of the M for Facebook Messenger virtual assistant. M aims to use a combination of predictive and self-learning neural networks backed by human assistants to answer complex queries and requests from users.
V3 contacted Apple for additional information about the acquisition but the company has yet to respond.
Perhaps Apple might be looking at aping Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg’s plans to crate a butler-like AI similar to Jarvis from blockbuster film Iron Man.
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