Google buys Oxford University AI startups

Google is continuing its expansion into artificial intelligence (AI) with the acquisition of two British startups, Vision Factory and Dark Blue Labs.

The companies, which were both spun out of the University of Oxford, and their seven key researchers will be absorbed into Google DeepMind, the company’s AI division created following the acquisition of a British AI business of the same name in January.

Vision Factory, founded by three professors from the University of Oxford’s Visual Geometry Group, specialises in object recognition technology. The company claims its software can recognise “thousands of objects and actions in images and videos” and any text in images and videos as well.

At the time of acquisition, Vision Factory’s technology was ready for deployment on mobile devices and embedded systems.

Dark Blue Labs, founded by four researchers from the University’s Computer Science Department, focuses on the development of natural language recognition by machines.

Three of the researchers will continue to hold positions at the University, although Google hasn’t disclosed which ones. The company will also be making “a substantial donation to establish a research partnership with the Computer Science Department and the Engineering Department”.

The partnership will include offering student internships and carrying out a series of joint lectures at the University.

Branching out

The research being done by Vision Factory and Dark Blue Labs complement not just each other, but also what DeepMind was researching before it was snapped up.

Immediately before Google bought it, machine-learning firm DeepMind had created an artificial neural network that could learn to play video games in a manner similar to humans.

While AI software may be the target of the company’s acquisition budget this year, Google also last year acquired military robot maker Boston Dynamics.

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