Twitter acquires London AI start-up Magic Pony 'to improve Periscope and Vine'

Magic Pony could help Twitter make Vine and Periscope work better on devices

Twitter has acquired Magic Pony, a London-based AI start-up, in order to develop its image recognition capabilities.

Magic Pony specialises in machine learning techniques that improve a computer's ability to identify features of an image, and process those features in new ways. Twitter is hoping the firm will help improve its integrated videos.

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Jack Dorsey, Twitter CEO and co-founder, said: "Machine learning is increasingly at the core of everything we build at Twitter. Magic Pony's machine learning technology will help us build strength into our deep learning teams with world-class talent, so Twitter can continue to be the best place to see what's happening and why it matters, first.

"We value deep learning research to help make our world better, and we will keep doing our part to share our work and learnings with the community."

This is the latest move from Twitter to expand its investment in machine learning, following its acquisitions of Madbits in 2014 and Whetlab in 2015, and brings Magic Pony's team of experts in computer vision, machine learning, high-performance computing and computational neuroscience to the tech giant.

Co-founders Rob Bishop and Zehan Wang will also join Twitter and be based in San Francisco and London, respectively.

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Bishop said: "Joining forces with Twitter gives us the opportunity to bring the benefits of that research to hundreds of millions of people around the world, and allows Magic Pony to contribute to better quality viewing experiences on Twitter."

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While neither party confirmed the cost of the acquisition, some publications have reported it to be in the region of $150 million.

Angela Eager, research director at analyst house TechMarketView, said: "It is likely to be integrated into Twitter's Periscope and Vine services to address the need social media providers like Facebook and Snapchat have to quickly stream quality, compressed video across multiple devices."

Despite an ever-growing userbase, Twitter has struggled to make a profit for some time. In 2015, it integrated live video streaming through Periscope to its platform and experimented with reordering tweets.

Its acquisition of Magic Pony comes as tech giants try to improve their image recognition abilities. Google's own AI tool, Deep Dream, was initially created as a way to research artificial neural networks and provide insight into image classification and speech recognition. Facebook similarly released research into object recognition, with its AI able to distinguish between items in a photograph 30 per cent faster than other offerings, and Microsoft is building an AI that can caption people's photos.

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Jeremy Rishel, Twitter's vice president of engineering, said: "London is an important engineering centre for us, responsible for some of our highest priority product work, like live video. The Magic Pony team there will serve as the European base of the Twitter Cortex team and help recruit more top talent from the region."

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