Facebook buys speech recognition startup

Social network hopes Wit.ai will help it close ground on Siri and Cortana

Speech recognition

Facebook is buying a natural language recognition startup as it tries to muscle in on the territory of personal assistant tools like Siri and Cortana.

The social network hopes to improve its offering with the services of Wit.ai, an open platform that allows developers to build apps that people can talk to.

The startup, founded in 2013, claims to have 6,000 developers using its technology to power hundreds of apps and devices.

In a blog post on its site, Wit.ai's team wrote: "It is an incredible acceleration in the execution of our vision. Facebook has the resources and talent to help us take the next step.

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"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."

Wait.ai's tool can take audio of the user's requests recorded by the app and turn it into structured data, telling the app to perform whatever task was requested by the user.

While the value of the deal has not been revealed, it gives Facebook a chance to catch up to rivals like Google's Google Now, Apple's Siri and Microsoft's Cortana, all of which are popular voice assistants.

Microsoft is also making other moves in speech and machine learning, with the Preview release of Skype Translator, which is currently able to translate conversations held between English and Spanish speakers in near real-time.

Wit.ai stated it will continue to work with developers, with the technology remaining open and becoming completely free to use.

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