Microsoft acquires machine learning and AI startup Bonsai

Bonsai employees

Seeking to strengthen its artificial intelligence arsenal, Microsoft has announced an agreement to acquire San Francisco-based AI startup Bonsai.

Bonsai already had Microsoft links, having been set up back in 2014 by two former Microsoft engineers, Mark Hammond and Keen Browne. The company specializes in "deep reinforcement learning" which can be used to teach autonomous systems within simulations, and the company sees this tying in with Azure.

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Hammond shared news of the acquisition in a blog post, saying that Bonsai and Microsoft have a desire to grow AI in automated systems. "Today we are excited to announce that Microsoft will be acquiring Bonsai to help accelerate the realization of this common vision. By combining Bonsai’s unique deep reinforcement learning and machine teaching platform with Microsoft’s Azure Platform and tools, extensive deep learning research, and recent AirSim simulation innovations, we stand to deliver to customers the most comprehensive tool chain for the building, training, deployment and management of AI for autonomous systems."

Writing about the agreement in a blog post, Microsoft's corporate vice president of business AI, Gurdeep Pall, says:

Today we are excited to take another major step forward in our vision to make it easier for developers and subject matter experts to build the "brains" -- machine learning model for autonomous systems of all kinds with the signing of an agreement to acquire Bonsai. Based in Berkeley, California, and an M12 portfolio company, Bonsai has developed a novel approach using machine teaching that abstracts the low-level mechanics of machine learning, so that subject matter experts, regardless of AI aptitude, can specify and train autonomous systems to accomplish tasks. The actual training takes place inside a simulated environment.

As a result of the acquisition, Bonsai's 42 employees will join Microsoft's AI and Research group.

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