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Apple just bought a low-power AI startup

Christine Fisher
Contributing Writer

Apple has acquired another Seattle-based AI startup, Xnor.ai. The startup specializes in low-power edge-based tools that allow AI to operate on devices, rather than in the cloud. The tech could allow Apple to bring edge-based AI software to future iPhone models.

Apple is giving its standard response: "Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans." But one Xnor.ai illustration, shared by GeekWire, shows a computer vision tool identifying objects in a photo using software on an iPhone. That might be the kind of capability we can look forward to.

According to GeekWire, Apple spent in the range of $200 million on Xnor.ai, which spun out of the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, or AI2, created by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. That's about how much Apple spent on Turi, another AI startup the company acquired in 2016. In the past couple years, Apple has also purchased the self-driving startup Drive.ai, the privacy-focussed AI company Silk Labs and the voice-tech startup PullString.

Competitors like Google and Facebook use acquisitions to expand their AI talent and new technology fairly often. Facebook recently spent somewhere between $500 million and $1 billion on the neural monitoring startup CTRL-labs. And while Google may have the lead when it comes to AI, this Xnor.ai acquisition could give Apple, specifically the iPhone, a boost.