Maluuba, the Waterloo-based deep learning and artificial intelligence startup that specializes in natural language and teaching machines to think and talk like people, has been acquired by tech behemoth Microsoft, in a deal announced Friday by both parties.

“Maluuba’s expertise in deep learning and reinforcement learning for question-answering and decision-making systems will help us advance our strategy to democratize AI and to make it accessible and valuable to everyone – consumers, businesses and developers,” Harry Shum, Microsoft’s Artificial Intelligence and Research Group Executive Vice-President, said in a blog post.

Significantly, and as part of the agreement, artificial intelligence pioneer and University of Montreal professor Yoshua Bengio, who heads up the Montreal Institute for Learning Algorithms and who has served as an advisor to Maluuba, “will also be advising Microsoft and interacting directly with” Microsoft and Shum.

Maluuba opened a research lab in Montreal in late 2015.

“Microsoft is an excellent match for our company,” said Maluuba co-founders Sam Pasupalak and Kaheer Suleman in a blog post. “Their ambitious vision of democratizing AI to empower every person and every organization on the planet fundamentally aligns with how we see our technology being used.

“Microsoft provides us the opportunity to deliver our work to the billions of consumer and enterprise users that can benefit from the advent of truly intelligent machines. In addition, Microsoft’s immense technical resources including back-end infrastructure (i.e. Microsoft’s Azure and GPU infrastructure) and engineering talent will help us accelerate our pace in conducting research and bringing solutions to market.

“In short, our new partnership enables us to advance more quickly toward our vision of creating literate machines.”

Maluuba was founded in 2010 and was initially based in the Communitech Hub as part of the University of Waterloo Velocity program. Both Maluuba co-founders were UW students.

In its blog post, Maluuba said it had reached a point in its development where it needed to scale and needed resources to do so. The agreement with Microsoft achieves that aim.

“So far, our team has focused on the areas of machine reading comprehension, dialogue understanding, and general (human) intelligence capabilities such as memory, common-sense reasoning, and information seeking behaviour,” the co-founders said. “Our early research achievements in these domains accelerated our need to scale our team rapidly; it was apparent that we needed to bolster our work with significant resources to advance towards solving artificial general intelligence.”

Bengio is considered in tech circles to be one of the godfathers of machine learning. Only 11 weeks ago he announced he was launching a startup incubator called Element AI, dedicated to fostering growth in deep learning. Last month the incubator was the recipient of seed financing from a special AI fund set up by Microsoft Ventures, Microsoft’s VC arm, which was established in May, 2016.

About The Author

Craig Daniels
Senior Journalist

Craig Daniels is a veteran reporter, columnist and editor who has joined Communitech’s editorial team as senior journalist. He worked most recently at Postmedia in Hamilton, where he led the team that produced the National Post, and before that at the Globe and Mail, the Toronto Sun, Financial Post, the Montreal Daily News and the Telegraph-Journal in Saint John, N.B. He has an abiding interest in the transformational power and promise of tech and startup ecosystems, is a commercially licensed pilot, and has a debilitating wrist-watch fetish.