Apple acquires speech tech startup VocalIQ

Apple has acquired VocalIQ, a UK-based startup company specializing in natural speech algorithms, The Financial Times reports. The company builds virtual assistants using machine learning technology, focused on providing a natural, conversational dialogue experience, and while such technology could conceivably be used to improve Siri, the report notes that VocalIQ was specifically focused on automotive applications, including a collaboration with General Motors.

VocalIQ had written a blog post earlier this year describing a “conversational voice-dialog system” that could be incorporated into a vehicle navigation system to reduce driver distraction from having to look at a screen. The company claims to have developed the world’s first “self-learning API” to “allow real conversation between human and the Internet of Things.” In another post, VocalIQ has noted that most of the big tech companies have produced vocal assistants that have fallen “well short of consumer expectations,” noting that solutions like Siri have “ended being used only as toys.” For its part, Apple confirmed the deal but made only its usual statement that “Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans.” VocalIQ’s team, however, is expected to remain in the U.K. rather than being moved to Apple’s U.S. headquarters.

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