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Can PullString Help Apple Get Back In the AI Conversation?

In what is widely thought to be an effort to catch up with competitors Amazon and Microsoft, Apple has announced that it will acquire Pullstring – a company providing conversational AI solutions.

The purchase is thought to be worth around $30 million, and is expected to help inform the development of Siri, the intelligent assistant that has become a household name since its release in 2010. In the following nine years, the conversational AI market has rapidly evolved, led by the tech giants Microsoft, Google, and Amazon – which has reportedly sold more than 100 million Alexa-equipped devices.

Apple however, has trailed behind Google and Amazon in the development of voice technology, and the Homepod – a smart speaker which lets you talk to Siri from across the room – hasn’t sold nearly as many.

The purchase of PullString could be just what Apple needs to get back in the game. This San Francisco-based startup made its name as “Toytalk” by producing software for talking dolls, before changing its name and expanding into other areas of voice-driven applications.

PullString’s expertise will now be absorbed into Apple’s AI and machine learning division, which has seen significant shakeup in recent times. John Giannandrea, Apple’s head of artificial intelligence and machine learning strategy, has been appointed to the company’s executive team, and smart home startup founder Sam Jadallah has been hired to revamp its smart home offering.

This suggests a renewed focus on conversational AI, which has evolved from being able to handle simple tasks like setting alarm clocks, to more complex commercial applications like the work of CrunchBot. As such, we are seeing increased demand for companies with expertise in this area from the world’s big IT players: Google, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, and Twitter have all made major moves on conversational AI, and are absorbing cutting-edge startups to help get ahead of the pack.

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