Microsoft Buys Lobe, A No-Code AI Development Startup


Microsoft on Thursday nabbed its third artificial intelligence startup of the year—an acquisition spree aimed at empowering partners to build intelligent applications.

Lobe, based in San Francisco, offers AI development capabilities through a visual interface that requires no coding.

The platform can be used by developers without data science expertise to build and train deep learning models, and then embed them directly into custom apps.

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The no-code technology can create apps that "understand hand gestures, hear music, read handwriting, and more," said Microsoft CTO Kevin Scott on the company's blog.

Data from inputs like cameras, microphones, and other devices can be used to train models.

Microsoft didn't disclose financial terms of the deal.

AI is revolutionizing entire industries like medicine and farming, Scott said, but the technology has been slow to realize its full potential because of the complexity involved in building and training models.

"To date, many people have been at a disadvantage when it comes to accessing AI, and we’re committed to changing that," Scott said.

At the start of 2017, Microsoft acquired Maluuba, an AI startup based in Canada that had achieved a high level of success in teaching computers how to read text.

Earlier this year, Microsoft purchased Semantic Machines, developer of natural language, speech recognition and speech synthesis technologies that power Siri and Google Now.

It further bulked up the AI portfolio two months ago with the acquisition of Bonsai, a startup focused on creating methods for training autonomous systems.

Microsoft also is hiring chip engineers, suggesting its entering the race to introduce custom processors for computationally intensive artificial intelligence workloads to its public cloud.

Lobe continues that strategy of building and acquiring technologies that ease the challenges of embedding capabilities only possible through machine learning into everyday solutions.

"We look forward to continuing the great work by Lobe in putting AI development into the hands of non-engineers and non-experts," he said.

The startup's product has only been released through a beta program. Microsoft will allow its core team to continue that work, Scott said.