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1/6/2015
12:42 PM
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Facebook Acquires Voice Recognition Startup Wit.ai

Wit.ai lets developers add Siri-like capabilities to apps, robots, wearables, and more.



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Facebook confirmed that it has acquired Wit.ai, a startup that lets developers add Siri-esque voice recognition capabilities to their products. Facebook did not disclose the terms of the deal.

Wit.ai, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based company founded in 2013, says its technology lets users interact with apps, wearables, robots, and messaging tools via voice, while learning human language from each of its interactions. The company operates on an open platform, so developers who use the technology share information back with the community to improve it.

Facebook didn't say how it plans to integrate the technology, but it could build voice-activated features into its navigation or status update tool. It could also use its latest acquisition to enhance its Messenger app, adding hands-free chat capabilities via voice commands, for example.  The Wit.ai acquisition may benefit Facebook's Parse technology as well; Parse simplifies app development for mobile developers.

Wit.ai's website alluded to how some developers may already use the technology. For example, a home automation company may invoke Wit.ai for voice commands. If a home owner is watching TV and is cold, the user could use a voice-activated command to turn up the thermostat without leaving the couch.

[Catch up on the latest Facebook changes. Read Facebook: 10 New Changes That Matter.]

Voice recognition technology isn't new to Facebook; the company already uses something similar in its mobile app. In May, the social network launched a feature that uses your device's microphone to listen for songs, TV, and movies to add to a status update. Facebook says this audio feature identifies only TV and music -- it cannot discern background noise or conversation. It also doesn't save or store sound, it says.

Facebook praised the company in a statement: "Wit.ai has built an incredible yet simple natural language processing API that has helped developers turn speech and text into actionable data," it said. "We're excited to have them onboard."

Wit.ai's platform, which already has 6,000 developers who have built hundreds of apps, will remain open and free, the company said in a blog post. The move to Facebook will help the company grow, it added.

"Facebook's mission is to connect everyone and build amazing experiences for the over 1.3 billion people on the platform -- technology that understands natural language is a big part of that, and we think we can help," Wit.ai said. "Developers are the life of our project and the energy, enthusiasm, and passion of the community has helped turn what was once just a lofty dream into a reality."

Wit.ai's cofounder, Alexandre Lebrun, is no stranger to voice recognition technology. In 2013, his "Siri for the enterprise" startup, VirtuOz, was acquired by speech and natural language company Nuance.

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Kristin Burnham currently serves as InformationWeek.com's Senior Editor, covering social media, social business, IT leadership and IT careers. Prior to joining InformationWeek in July 2013, she served in a number of roles at CIO magazine and CIO.com, most recently as senior ... View Full Bio

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