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3/4/2015
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IBM Buys AlchemyAPI: What Watson Gains

IBM acquires AlchemyAPI to improve Watson's capacity for natural-language processing, image analysis, and understanding human behavior.

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IBM on Wednesday announced it has acquired AlchemyAPI, a provider of natural-language processing and image-analysis services and technologies. IBM said the deal will expand the IBM Watson community and accelerate the development of new cognitive computing applications.

AlchemyAPI provides application program interface (API) services that are used by more than 40,000 developers. Based in Denver and founded in 2005, AlchemyAPI says its platform supports smart apps that "deeply understand the world's conversations, reports, and photos so you can align your business with customer preferences and intent."

AlchemyAPI's platform processes billions of API calls per month. IBM said it will build this technology into the core Watson platform, tapping advanced data analysis capabilities such as taxonomy categorization, entity and keyword extraction, sentiment analysis, and Web page cleaning. The IBM Watson Developer cloud currently offers 13 API services, including five that were added last month covering speech-to-text, text-to-speech, visual recognition, concept-analysis, and trade-off analysis.

[Read: IBM Watson Cloud Gains Eyes, Ears, And A Voice.]

AlchemyAPI covers the spectrum of natural-language processing functions, from language detection and basic entity extraction to fine-grained sentiment analysis, according to Seth Grimes, founder of the Sentiment Analysis Symposium and principle of the consulting firm Alta Plana.

"The platform uses a hybrid approach that combines statistical, machine learning, and taxonomy-based methods, but what sets AlchemyAPI apart is the company's foray into vision analysis," said Grimes in an email interview with InformationWeek. "The company's deep-learning technology is well suited to identifying both broad-stroke and detailed image features, and there are many practical applications."

Mobile content, social, and commerce applications would be a natural, since more than 1 billion photos are now taken and shared on smartphones each day. AlchemyAPI's image processing identifies the content of images -- is it a cat or a fish? -- while deep learning provides the context of the image -- is it a predator or a pet?

AlchemyAPI ingests public and private data and exposes API-callable services that can make sense of that data as part of larger applications.

AlchemyAPI ingests public and private data and exposes API-callable services that can make sense of that data as part of larger applications.

AlchemyAPI will also improve Watson's linguistic understanding as the platform handles API calls across 36 countries in eight different languages: English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, and Swedish. Watson's primary language is English, though it saw its first Spanish-language deployment in 2014 and recently added Spanish speech-to-text and text-to-speech capabilities.

IBM is at the forefront of building cognitive apps -- meaning apps that learn and improve their understanding and accuracy with experience. More than 7,000 applications developed on the Watson platform to date, ranging from diagnosing and suggesting best treatments for medical conditions to improving customer service in complex service and product-support scenarios. AlchemyAPI competes in the natural-language processing market, with competitors including Semantria, MeaningCloud, TheySay, ConveyAPI, Aylien, and others, according to Grimes.

The financial terms of the AlchemyAPI acquisition were not disclosed.

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Doug Henschen is Executive Editor of InformationWeek, where he covers the intersection of enterprise applications with information management, business intelligence, big data and analytics. He previously served as editor in chief of Intelligent Enterprise, editor in chief of ... View Full Bio

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D. Henschen
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D. Henschen,
User Rank: Author
3/4/2015 | 3:37:56 PM
What are people Snapchatting about?
There are oodles of natural-language-aware, sentiment-analysis engines out there, but the competition gets thinner when it comes to image analysis. Given rampant smartphone picture taking and social network support for image-based chatter, AlchemyAPI has offers important capabilities. This might also be applied foster e-commerce scenarios, such as understanding what people are looking for based on the images they're searching, not just the metadata behind their search.
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