Google acquires India’s Halli Labs, which was building AI tools to fix ‘old problems’



Some more M&A news in the world of artificial intelligence. Today it was made public that Google has acquired Halli Labs, a very young (its first public appearance was on May 22 of this year) startup based out of Bengaluru, India, that was focused on building deep learning and machine learning systems to address what it describes as “old problems.”

The company says it will be joining Google’s Next Billion Users team “to help get more technology and information into more people’s hands around the world.”

Halli announced the news itself earlier today in a short post on Medium, and Caesar Sengupta, a product management VP at Google, also confirmed the acquisition with a Tweet.

Google has now also confirmed the acquisition with a short statement it provided to TechCrunch.

“We are excited that the Halli Labs team is joining Google,” said spokesperson Taj Meadows. “They’ll be joining our team that is focused on building products that are designed for the next billion users coming online, particularly in India.”

It’s not clear whether or not Halli Labs (“Halli” means village in Kannada, the company notes) was funded. The company’s founder, Pankaj Gupta, is a data scientist with an interesting history that includes running recommendation and personalization at Twitter, and a role as CTO at now-defunct Indian Airbnb rival Stayzilla, among other entrepreneurial ventures.

It’s also not clear how many more people were working at Halli Labs. We’re trying to find that out too.

The acquisition is significant for a couple of reasons.

One is that it shows the ongoing interest by the largest tech companies in the world to double down on AI and its many facets, from software through to hardware, and pure research through to practical applications.

Google has been one of the leaders in this field, with extensive programs in house augmented by acquisitions and other efforts. It has snapped up companies like DeepMind in the UK and has forged strong programs with educational institutions to tap into talent early.

(Notably, Google’s parent company Alphabet has also offloaded some assets, such as its Boston Dynamics unit, which seems to imply that it is shifting away from AI-based hardware into more AI-based applications around software.)

The other trend here is that we are continuing to see a significant amount of consolidation in the field of AI.

A huge number of startups have been founded breaking new ground in deep learning, neural networks, computer vision, natural language processing, robotics, and more. While some of these will grow longer term as independent entities — Element.ai, as one example, is banking on the idea of staying independent as a counter lever to the big tech giants — the very biggest tech players are also serving as magnets bringing some of the smaller players and their talent together.

Companies besides Google and its parent company Alphabet that are acquiring AI expertise through acquisitions include Baidu, Samsung, Microsoft, Apple, Facebook and Snap, among many others.

It’s notable to me, too, that Halli came out of India (with a Silicon Valley pedigree, but still based in India). Along with Samsung making its first acquisition out of Greece this week, you can see how the race for talent is seeing companies cast their nets far and wide beyond the valley; and also how talent doesn’t have to be located within spitting distance of US 101 to get noticed.

Updated with comment from Google.



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