Facebook Acquires AI Startup Ozlo As Virtual Assistant Race Heats Up

Facebook has acquired an artificial intelligence startup based in Palo Alto, California in order to improve how Messenger’s virtual assistant works. Ozlo, which was founded four years ago by Charles Jolley and Michael Hanson, has proven abilities in engaging in text-based conversations. The startup confirmed the acquisition in an online posting.

“[Ozlo] has built a knowledge graph containing over 2 billion entities and created amazing AI technology that uses this data to understand real-world nuances. Now, we’re ready to take the next step in our journey with Messenger,” read a post on the startup’s website.

ML and AI

Most of the employees at the startup, who currently number about 30, will be integrated with the Facebook Messenger team either in Seattle, Washington or Menlo Park, California and will continue working on machine learning and artificial intelligence. Terms of the deal were, however, not disclosed.

Ozlo’s app for the web and for mobile devices running on iOS was unveiled last year in October. Initially the focus of the app was assisting users in sifting through restaurant listings. It then expanded to include local business services such as movie listings and weather forecasts.

Venture funding

In 2016 Ozlo managed to raise venture funding worth approximately $14 million from venture capital firms that included AME Ventures and Greylock Partners. The co-founder of Yahoo, Jerry Yang, also participated.

This is not the first startup that Jolley has sold to Facebook as six years ago the social media giant acquired Strobe, another startup he had founded. After the Strobe acquisition Jolley joined Facebook where he was in charge of the social media giant’s Android team. He also assisted in the launching of Facebook Home. This time though, Jolley will not be joining the social media behemoth.

M virtual assistant

Part of the reason why Facebook made the acquisition is the fact that the current artificial intelligence assistant of the social media giant has failed to take off. Originally the AI assistant named M was developed to compete with the likes of Google Assistant and Apple’s Siri but reports indicate that a large portion of the M’s abilities are being handled not by artificial intelligence but by human trainers.

In the recent past artificial intelligence has emerged as a critical part of Facebook’s strategy of connecting more people all over the world. Currently the Palo Alto, California-based social media giant is using AI in combating terrorist propaganda and fake news on its platforms.

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