Microsoft to acquire AI training startup Bonsai

Microsoft is looking to strengthen its position in the race for breakthroughs in artificial intelligence with the announcement on Wednesday of an agreement to acquire Bonsai, a startup focused on creating methods for training autonomous systems.

Bonsai, based in Berkeley, Calif., offers a faster way to build the “brains” needed for robotics and other autonomous systems. The startup brings a “new approach using machine learning that abstracts the low-level mechanics of machine learning,” wrote Gurdeep Pall, Microsoft vice president for business AI, in a blog post.

[Related: Microsoft CEO Nadella: We Are ‘A Clear Leader’ In Cloud Security And Beating The Competition At AI Services]

Ultimately, Bonsai allows subject matter experts to “specify and train autonomous systems to accomplish tasks,” regardless of their AI aptitude, Pall wrote.

Bonsai’s platform includes “unique innovations in automatic teaching, automated model generation and management, a host of APIs and SDKs for simulator integration, and prebuilt support for core simulations, all rolled into one end-to-end platform,” Pall wrote. .

Microsoft, based in Redmond, Washington, did not disclose the terms of the acquisition agreement.

Microsoft’s venture arm, M12, already had a stake in Bonsai in an investment announced in May 2017. Bonsai was founded in 2014.

Bonsai’s recent achievements have included a new benchmark for programming industrial control systems – which “performed 45 times faster than a comparable approach from Google’s DeepMind” when training a simulated robotic arm, as well as teaching Siemens subject matter experts to automatically calibrate a computer. CNC machine “30 times faster than the traditional approach,” Pall said in the blog post.

“What I find exciting is that Bonsai has made remarkable breakthroughs with its approach that will have a profound impact on AI development,” Pall wrote.

Reed Wiedower, CTO of Washington, DC-based New Signature, said in an email that Microsoft’s partners had two big reasons to applaud Bonsai’s planned acquisition.

The first is that Bonsai’s value proposition to partners is to accelerate the building of machine learning systems, where “the premise is that you break down a complex task into a set of easier tasks for training purposes”, Wiedower said.

This allows partners with limited resources to “find a way to solve a problem faster than before,” Wiedower said. “Right now, the entire industry is suffering from a severe shortage of machine learning experts, and that will make this issue much less relevant.”

The other big benefit for partners, he said, is that Bonsai offers industry-specific solutions for verticals including energy, manufacturing and supply chain.

“As Microsoft itself begins to adopt a more industry-specific focus in organizing field sales, the ability to deliver value to these specific verticals is a key value proposition of working in the field. ‘Bonsai environment,” Wiedower said. “Unlike the value proposition for organizations that are early adopters of Microsoft 365 and Dynamics 365 based on the strength of their broad capabilities, most of the value within Azure is specific to the industries in which it is deployed.”

Having “pre-cooked” industry-specific solutions to solve certain types of problems, Wiedower said, “allows partners to come into an organization and deliver value much faster.”

The deal to acquire Bonsai follows notable comments about AI from Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella in April. Nadella claimed at the time that the software giant was moving away from competitors in the field of artificial intelligence, with “advanced” AI to detect security threats and more AI services ” than any other cloud provider”.

The move is also the latest in a recent string of acquisition deals for Microsoft that range from the blockbuster deal to acquire open-source code repository GitHub, in a deal valued at $7.5 billion. of dollars, in early June, to the acquisition of the social learning startup Flipgrid. this week.

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