Apple’s Purchase of Emotient Fuels AI Boom in Silicon Valley

The arms race in Silicon Valley is on for artificial intelligence. Facebook is working on a virtual personal assistant that can read people's faces and decide whether or not to let them in your home.

Google is investing in the technology to power self-driving cars, identify people on its photo service and build a better messaging app.

Now Apple is adding to its artificial intelligence arsenal. The iPhone maker purchased Emotient, a San Diego maker of facial expression recognition software that can detect emotions to assist advertisers, retailers, doctors and many other professions.

Apple confirmed the purchase this month, but did not give details of the deal. Emotient could not be reached for comment.

The purchase comes during fevered interest in artificial intelligence, or A.I., which relies on algorithms powered by troves of data to bridge the gap between computers and natural human thinking.

Image recognition technology similar to Emotient's is helping law enforcement identify terrorists. It's allowing banks to authenticate customers. And it's telling marketers which TV shows are worth advertising with.

The technology is set to take off now that the nation's biggest tech giants are involved, and in some cases giving away their software free to encourage developers to help innovate the programs.

"This technology just gets smarter and smarter," said Dan Kara, research director for robotics at ABI Research. "There's been a massive amount of change. If you look at the funding in A.I. as recently as 2010, it wasn't nearly what it is today."

Facebook founder and Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg said this month that he was attempting to build an A.I. system to control his home. Google, Microsoft, Amazon and entrepreneur Elon Musk have all recently made high-profile forays into research and development of A.I.

Apple already has Siri, a digital assistant that responds to users' spoken questions. And it has also purchased...

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