Apple snaps up self-learning AI video startup Vilynx to improve Siri, Photos and other services

Ever since poaching Google’s head of search John Giannandrea to lead its artificial intelligence (AI) efforts, Apple’s been acquiring startups that specialize in AI and machine learning (ML).

Its latest deal is no exception — Apple has scooped up a Barcelona-based AI startup, called Vilynx, earlier this year for about $50 million. Vilynx specializes in AI-related video functions. Apple confirmed the deal with its boilerplate statement, saying “Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans.”

Mark Gurman, writing for Bloomberg, speculates Apple may take advantage of Vilynix’s technology to improve its own AI across a number of apps and services, including Siri.

The Cupertino teechnolgoy giant could potentially apply the startup’s technology to its own digital assistant, Siri, and its search technology in iOS and macOS. The Financial Times newspaper reported today that Apple may be building a general purpose search engine as it ties to Google come under antitrust scrutiny. In that regard, search-based acqusitions like Vilynx may be crucial pieces of underlying technology for an Apple search engine.

Vilynx technology can analyze a video’s visual, audio and text content to understand what the video shows, as well as make it searchable. Now, Apple already employs AI and ML in the Photos app to identify people, places and objects in photographs, which is then used when searching for photos. Something like that but for video would be perfect. Videos in the Photos app are currently not searchable based on metadata like face, places or objects.

About 50 Vilynx engineers and data scientists joined Apple, including Vilynx co-founder and Chief Technology Officer Elisenda Bou-Balust. Apple also intends to turn Vilynx’s Barcelona office into one of its main artificial intelligence research and development centers in Europe.