Apple Acquires Artificial Intelligence Startup to Boost Siri

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Apple Inc. acquired a U.K. software startup that could give its digital assistant Siri a boost.

VocalIQ, based in Cambridge, England, has built software aimed at making it easier for people to speak to computers in a more natural way, an area in which Siri and other voice-recognition services have struggled. The company has been particularly focused on selling its product to auto manufacturers, including a partnership with General Motors Co., adding to speculation that Apple is developing its own car, according to the Financial Times, which reported the deal earlier.

Apple confirmed the acquisition. Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed.

VocalIQ’s technology is based on machine learning, an area of artificial intelligence in which a computer improves as it ingests more information. As a person uses VocalIQ’s software, it helps a device become more accurate at predicting what commands to execute. Other technology companies, including Google Inc. and Facebook Inc., have been conducting similar research in this area.

Apple has been steadily improving Siri since its debut in 2011. While at first criticized for understanding only the most rudimentary of requests, the company has been adding features for getting sports scores, setting reminders, searching for an iPhone picture or finding directions.

Small deals are typical for Apple, which often buys a company, shuts down its product and puts its employees to work on an future product Apple is building.

"Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans," said Colin Johnson, a company spokesman.

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