SEATTLE International Business Machines Corp said on Wednesday it had acquired AlchemyAPI, a fast-growing startup selling software that collects and analyzes unstructured text and data in ways big enterprises, website publishers and advertisers find useful.
The purchase is designed to boost IBM's push into more human-like computing services, based around its Watson technology, which can sift huge amounts of data, learn from the results and respond to spoken questions.
IBM is trying to build a big business around Watson, which came to prominence in 2011 when it beat two previous champions on the U.S. quiz show Jeopardy. IBM gives developers access to Watson so they can use the technology in their own applications, but it has only just started to filter down to mainstream use.
AlchemyAPI already has about 40,000 developers building tools using its technology, which would give IBM access to a much bigger, ready-made user base.
"They (AlchemyAPI) bring a very substantial development community and following," said Steve Gold, vice president of IBM's Watson group. "Plus, they have a very talented group of technologists."
AlchemyAPI, founded in 2005 and based in Denver, has 18 full-time employees. Its customers include publishing company Hearst Corp and image agency Shutterstock. IBM did not disclose the purchase price.
The startup's software gathers data from a wide range of sources, from Twitter posts and news stories to website images and text messages, sorts the data, learns to differentiate between them, and allows users to see connections that would take much longer to establish using more standard computing methods.
The software, which learns as it goes, enables users to group together disparate information on a certain topic or event, find related articles or information sources, and helps advertisers target online ads better.
With the addition of AlchemyAPI's technology, Gold said IBM sees opportunities for Watson in many fields such as healthcare, law and insurance, or wherever there are large volumes of unstructured data to be analyzed.
AlchemyAPI is IBM's second acquisition in the field after it bought artificial intelligence startup Cognea last year, which pioneered virtual assistant apps for smartphones.
(Reporting by Bill Rigby; Editing by Ken Wills)