IBM acquires AI start-up Cognea

20 May 2014

Michael Rhodin, IBM Watson's senior vice-president

The innovative wing of IBM, the IBM Watson Group, will now have another addition to its portfolio with the acquisition of artificial intelligence (AI) start-up Cognea.

Announcing the deal on the IBM Watson blog, the unit’s senior vice-president Michael Rhodin wrote that with Cognea’s help, they can produce a computer similar to those seen in science fiction films that can interact in conversations in a variety of different tones.

The decision to invest in Cognea is part of IBM’s decision to commit to investing US$100m in venture capital in start-ups aimed at building apps and services on top of the established Watson platform. IBM has already made two investments; in Welltok, a maker of online healthcare management communities, and Fluid, who are building a cognitive shopping assistant.

The computer by IBM and Cognea will differ from other forms of voice-activation software, such as Siri and Cortana, by focusing on the ability to converse as opposed to just responding to instructions or command triggers.

“An essential part of the third era of computing – cognitive computing – will be our ability to interact with smart machines in ways that are more natural to us,” said Rhodin.

“I’m not talking about just giving the computer a simple command or asking a simple question. That’s yesterday’s technology. I’m talking about more realistic conversations – everything from friendly chit-chat to intense debate. As cognitive conversation capabilities advance, we become more than impersonal button pushers.”

IBM Watson’s eventual goal is to offer its technology to its partners in business, as well as entrepreneurs, universities and enterprises, having established itself in January for the development and commercialisation of cloud-delivered cognitive innovations.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic