Apple has acquired artificial intelligence start-up Turi for about US$200m, according to people familiar with the situation, in the latest deal by the iPhone maker to accumulate advanced computing capabilities for its products and services.

Turi helps developers create and manage software and services that use a form of AI called machine learning. It also has systems that let companies to build recommendation engines, detect fraud, analyse customer usage patterns and better target potential users, according to the Seattle-based start-up’s website. Apple could use this to more rapidly integrate the technology with future products.

Apple’s move on Friday is part of a broader battle among Google, Facebook and Amazon to gain an edge in AI, particularly in the field known as pervasive computing, where software tries to automatically infer what people want, one of the people said. Turi’s technology could feed into Apple’s Siri digital assistant, the person added, and help define new ways computers interact with people.

“Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans,” Apple said in a statement.

Apple sees its Turi acquisition as a way to better tap into the growing community of AI researchers, said a person familiar with the deal. Apple has been criticised by researchers for being too secretive about its AI work. In contrast, Turi held a two-day machine-learning conference in July in San Francisco for data scientists and academics.

Formerly known as Dato, Turi raised more than $25m from venture capital investors including New Enterprise Associates and Madrona Venture Group. Turi couldn’t be reached for comment on the deal. The Turi team will remain in Seattle, one of the people familiar with the situation said.

Apple has purchased multiple firms over the past couple of years that specialise in AI. The company has also begun to integrate these technologies into products such as its iPhone software and Siri.

In January, Apple acquired Emotient, a start-up that uses AI to recognise and act upon facial expressions. Last year, they acquired a pair of voice-centric AI startups, VocalIQ and Perceptio, to bolster Siri. VocalIQ specialised in using machine learning to allow voice assistants to engage in more realistic conversation. Perceptio focused on helping AI systems run on devices while sharing limited amounts of personal user data.

Machine learning and AI help computers automatically understand images, videos and spoken words. The technologies also allow systems to take actions or make recommendations on such data. Apple has already begun to show the fruits of its AI investments via better keyword recognition by Siri across multiple product lines.

Apple will release a new version of its photo management program for iPhones and iPads that uses AI to recognise objects in photos. For example, a user will be able to search for “sushi” and photographs of the food will appear. Apple will also bring machine-learning capabilities to its iMessage application by adding a feature this fall that translates words in texts into emoji icons.


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