Cisco taps into AI, collaboration with $125M MindMeld buy

Cisco gets MindMeld’s Deep-Domain Conversational AI technology for voice-embedded apps

cisco-taps-into-ai-collaboration-with-125m-mindmeld-buy
Reuters/Eric Gaillard

Cisco said it would target collaboration applications first with artificial intelligence technology it will get from buying MindMeld for $125 million.

The deal, announced today, is Cisco’s third in two weeks and nets the company MindMeld’s AI platform which lets customers to build intelligent, conversational interfaces for any application or device with its proprietary machine learning (ML) technology. Specifically, MindMeld develops what it calls Deep-Domain Conversational AI which essentially allows customers to embed voice commands in any applications and services.

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When MindMeld rolled out its first technology platform for Deep-Domain Conversational AI last November it wrote: “Until now, companies looking to build advanced voice or chat assistants have had few options. Open-source or academic AI toolkits (e.g. TensorFlow, CNTK, SyntaxNet, CoreNLP, NLTK) provide advanced algorithms but little data suitable for production-quality applications. Meanwhile, cloud-based developer tools (e.g. Facebook’s wit.ai, Google’s api.ai, Microsoft’s LUIS, Samsung’s Viv) provide only limited support for building AI models for custom knowledge domains.”

An increasing number of companies are adopting machine learning and natural language understanding as key components of their business strategy. This technology is gaining influence in verticals such as retail, travel, hospitality, and food ordering. With MindMeld’s Deep-Domain Conversational AI, voice and chat assistants with humanlike understanding of natural language are now available to any company, MindMeld stated.

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“At the core of MindMeld’s technology is a powerful machine learning platform that can ingest customer data and create a highly accurate and customized natural language model, tailored to each company’s industry and requirements. MindMeld also delivers a dialog manager that enables a computer to respond to user requests through chat and voice applications in a human-like fashion,” wrote Rob Salvagno. vice president of Corporate Business Development at Cisco in a blog about the deal. “With MindMeld, we will enhance our Collaboration suite, adding new conversational interfaces to our collaboration products starting with Cisco Spark. I’m excited for the potential represented by the MindMeld team and their technology, coupled with Cisco’s market-leading collaboration portfolio, to enable us to create a user experience that is unlike anything that exists in the market today.”

Cisco said the acquisition will further new intelligent conversational interfaces for Cisco's collaboration products. For example, users will be able to interact with Cisco Spark via natural language commands, providing an experience that is highly customized to the user and their work. Together, Cisco and MindMeld can bring voice AI to meeting rooms throughout the world, where Cisco's video and telephony hardware will help increase adoption of AI technology across the workplace, the company stated.

MindMeld wrote of the acquisition: “…along with the utility of applied AI, has come a long way over the last five years, but this is only the beginning. Over the next decade, Conversational AI will not only help simplify many of our daily tasks, but it also promises to empower millions of individuals worldwide who may have traditionally been hampered by language, literacy or accessibility barriers. MindMeld will power conversational interfaces for Cisco’s Collaboration portfolio, revolutionizing how users interact with technology.”

Tim Tuttle, a former AI researcher from MIT and Bell Labs founded MindMeld in 2011. The company is backed by a variety of investors including Google, Samsung, Intel, Telefónica, Liberty Global, Greylock Partners, Bessemer Venture Partners, IDG Ventures, KPG Ventures, Quest Venture Partners.

The MindMeld team will join the Cloud Collaboration group under Cisco's Jens Meggers, senior vice president and general manager, as the Cognitive Collaboration team/ The acquisition is expected to close in Cisco's fourth quarter of fiscal year 2017.

Cisco’s checkbook is hot, as the company on May 4 bought the analytics and data science technology firm Saggezza for an undisclosed amount. On May 1 Cisco padded its SD-WAN portfolio with SD-WAN player Viptela for $610 million. In March Cisco closed its approximately $3.7 billion deal for application analytics specialist AppDynamics.

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