Apple has Siri, and now Intel has Ginger. The chipmaker has made one more acquisition to bolster its advanced computing and artificial intelligence holdings: it has purchased selected assets, and hired talent, from Israel’s Ginger Software in the area of natural language processing tools and applications. Those assets include a platform for third parties to create customised personal assistants, for a price believed to be up to $30 million.
Ginger Software, backed by investors like Li Ka-Shing’s Horizons Ventures, will continue to operate as an independent business focusing on its remaining business: intelligent grammar and spell checking software. This is not the only change afoot at Ginger: the company recently saw its chairperson, Soffer Teeni, leave to head up Facebook Israel.
Rumors of the deal were first reported by Hebrew publication Calcalist, and now we have confirmed them directly with Ginger Software and Intel.
“Intel acquired natural language processing tools and applications assets from Ginger. Along with the aforementioned assets, Intel also hired some Ginger engineers associated with this business,” a Ginger spokesperson told me.
“On May 8, Intel acquired natural language processing tools and applications assets from Ginger Software, and it is hiring up to 16 engineers associated with this business,” an Intel spokesperson further elaborated. “We are not disclosing details about how Intel might use the Ginger Software technologies at this time and we are not disclosing terms of the deal. Please note – We’re acquiring the assets and engineering team associated with Ginger Software’s natural language processing tools and applications. We aren’t acquiring Ginger Software’s Grammar and Spell Checker.”
Among the 16 that are going are Ginger’s founder, CEO and Chief Scientist of the Personal Assistant business of the company, Yael Karov. She is an NLP expert, and this is her fourth exit: among the others was a role as co-founder and CTO of the NLP company Agentics, which was acquired by Mercado Software.
The group also includes natural language processing wiz Micha Breakstone, who was the VP for R&D of the Personal Assistant business. Breakstone, from what we understand, was also the first consultant hired to work on Summly — the summarizing app acquired by Yahoo, with its young founder Nick D’Aloisio now heading up Yahoo’s News Digest efforts.
Karov explains the decision to split the business and sell the personal assistant part to Intel like this:
“Ginger had two separate business units, each of them had a different technology, target market, and CEO (I was the CEO of both units until 6 months ago Maoz joined to manage the English as a Second Language, and I moved to manage the Personal Assistant only),” she says. “The first business – English as a second language was not for sale. It has a commercial consumer product with many mobile and desktop users, and our plan is to use the proceeds from the personal assistant asset sale in order to continue and improve our products, and scale up Ginger. We also plan a big release of a communication product for native English Speakers. The innovative NLP technology for sale was managed and developed by a separate team that I led.
We plan to continue and broaden the original business of Ginger and get to hundreds of millions of users. We don’t plan to sell the Ginger business.”
As for the price, Calcalist pegged the price at between $20 million and $30 million. Later, tech blog Geek Time put the price at between $10 million and $20 million. We’re continuing to dig and see if we can find out more on this front.
The deal is an interesting one for Intel, in that it builds on other investments and acquisitions that the company has made into the area of advanced computing — a nebulous area that includes not only artificial intelligence and how users can interact with computing devices but new frontiers in what forms those computers may even take.
Among the 57 acquisitions made by the company in the last seven years, several recent additions in this same vein include wearables company Basis Science, gesture control specialist Omek Interactive, and natural language processing company Indysis.
It seems like the value of these kinds of acquisitions is two-fold for Intel: the IP can be used by the company in the development of chipsets for future generations of hardware where functions like these may be standard. But on the other hand, the company can also use the tech in itself as a service to sell to third parties (think here not of phones, but new ‘hardware’ like connected cars, home monitoring systems, and so on); perhaps even to use in products itself.
With Apple yet (and perhaps never?) to release APIs for Siri-like services in apps, the idea of a really useful, working personal assistant platform open for anyone to create their own customised version of such a feature remains something of a holy grail.