Amazon Snaps Up Image Recognition Startup

April 6, 2016, 7:30 PM UTC
German Launch For Amazon's Fire Smartphone
A man holds the new Fire smartphone by Inc. and demonstrates the phone's app's including icons for Spotify, Shazam, eBay, Skype, and Linkedin during a demonstration at a news conference in Berlin, Germany, on Monday, Sept. 8, 2014. Inc., the worlds largest online retailer, will start selling its Fire phone in Germany and the U.K. in an effort to win a bigger slice of the smartphone market and sell more services in Europe. Photographer: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Photograph by Krisztian Bocsi—Bloomberg via Getty Images

Amazon has bought Orbeus, a Silicon Valley startup that specializes in image recognition, according to Bloomberg, citing unnamed sources.

Orbeus is the company behind ReKognition, a tool that software developers can use to add facial or object recognition to their own products. It could be used, for example, in interactive store advertising displays to determine if shoppers standing nearby are male or female, and then adapt their pitches accordingly, according to another report..

Rekognition itself is no longer available to new customers, Orbeus says on its website. Another Orbeus product, PhotoTime, a mobile app, that tags your smart phone photos based on dozens of categories like place, date, object still appears to be on sale through the Apple (AAPL) and Google (GOOG) app stores.

Computers can’t read your mind yet, but they’re getting closer

PhotoTime can also recognize faces by comparing photo images with what’s in your social network.

Image and voice recognition, are two critical categories in artificial intelligence (AI), which enables computers to teach themselves new skills in a human-like way.

Amazon (AMZN) had no comment about the reported acquisition and Orbeus could not be reached for comment. But there’s definitely a land grab for AI talent.

Earlier this week, (CRM) paid an undisclosed amount for AI startup MetaMind. The reason for the interest is that cloud providers like Amazon Web Services, Microsoft (MSFT), and Google (GOOG) can add image recognition as another tool to provide to outside software developers.

Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos has a deep interest in AI, even hosting an event in Palm Springsabout the topic last month, according to Bloomberg.

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Google offers its own image-recognition and photo-tagging capabilities as does Microsoft which also bought SwiftKey, a London-based AI company in February. Late last year, Apple (AAPL) bought Perceptio, yet another AI player.

For more on artificial intelligence, watch:

The thread here is that artificial intelligence, aka machine learning, depends on the availability of massive troves of image, voice, or other data that computers can sift through. As they do this they improve their ability to recognize people’s faces or even their moods. That means smarter (and possibly creepier) computers that will be able to take on more tasks previously done by humans.

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