Microsoft has announced it is set to acquire California-based artificial intelligence (AI) development company
“novel approach using machine teaching”, Microsoft Corporate vice president Gurdeep Pall commented via blog that Bonsai would be:
“…another major step forward in [Microsoft’s] vision to make it easier for developers and subject matter experts to build... machine learning models for autonomous systems of all kinds.”
The company has not commented on how much it will pay to acquire
Bonsai, but on the day of the announcement, Microsoft shares rose
1.2% amid a broad rally among tech stocks.
Bonsai was originally founded in early 2014 by Microsoft alumni
Keen Browne and
Mark Hammond and is geared towards making use of intelligent systems. The company has aimed to use
‘reinforcement learning’ to completely automate the management of machine learning algorithms so the operational efficiency of supply chains, robotics, manufacturing and other repeatable processes can in turn be improved through better automation. At a basic level, reinforcement learning is a trial and error approach to teaching an automated system how best to complete a specific set of tasks. This is usually done in a simulated environment before being deployed in the real world.
Last year, Bonsai demonstrated its AI and reinforcement learning know-how when it used its platform to autonomously train a simulated robotic arm how to pick up and stack blocks on top of one another. In this experiment, their programming is reported to have performed the task 45 times faster than in comparable tests using
Google’s DeepMind AI platform. Similar results were also achieved earlier this year by Siemens, who managed to successfully train an AI model to automatically calibrate a Computer Numerical Control machine 30 times faster than it could have been done using traditional means.
In addition to support from
Siemens, since its inception Bonsai has received funding totalling
£10.3m from companies including Samsung, ABB and other tech firms that see potential advantages across their operations from backing the burgeoning business of AI.
In its statement Microsoft said it plans to combine Bonsai’s work with its Azure Machine Learning and other Azure tools to provide an
“end-to-end solution” for autonomous system
“brains”, starting at the building stage and continuing through to operation and enhancement.
The announcement from Microsoft follows the recent acquisitions of GitHub, an open source platform for software developers, and FlipGrid, a social networking video sharing tool for use in learning environments. As the Washington-based tech stalwart moves away from being a straightforward supplier of software products such as Windows and Office 365, it is not unlikely that further acquisitions will take place in the near future.
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