Facebook’s first acquisition of 2015 is 18 month old start-up Wit.ai, an open platform and community for developing speech-activated interfaces. These natural language processing apps help users talk to phones or robots. “Wit.ai has built an incredible yet simple natural language processing API that has helped developers turn speech and text into actionable data,” Facebook told TechCrunch. “We’re excited to have them on board.”
Thanks to digital assistants like Siri and Cortana, rattling off requests out loud has become quicker and easier than typing search terms on a small smartphone keyboard – which might go some way towards explaining this latest deal.
While Facebook has not revealed any immediate plans for Wit.ai, or outlined its reasoning behind acquiring the company in any great detail, it doesn’t take a huge jump in logic to speculate that there might be plans for voice-activated functionality in the social network’s future. “It’s also possible that Facebook sees this as a developer play,” says Recode’s KurtWagner. “That is, it wants to offer this technology to other mobile developers building products that work alongside Facebook.”
“The most interesting journeys involve unexpected surprises,” states the official Wit.ai blog. “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.”
The Wit.ai team are keen to emphasise that the platform will continue to be free and open “forever” for developers in the wake of the acquisition: “Developers are the life of our project and the energy, enthusiasm and passion of the community has helped turn what was once just a lofty dream into a reality. We want to continue to build with you.”