London AI Startup Snapped Up By Twitter

Magic Pony, a London-based artificial intelligence startup has recently been acquired by Twitter, the online networking service.

Twitter has reportedly paid about $150 million for the startup, which was founded by Imperial College graduates. It is thought the co-founders, Rob Bishop and Zehan Wang, owned approximately half of their startup’s shares, which means the acquisition would have made them nearly $75 million.

This is not the first acquisition that Twitter has made in relation to machine learning. It is also not the first British startup to be bought by the microblogging service; it is the third.

Magic Pony uses machine learning techniques for visual processing, so, with Twitter’s focus on continually improving their own live and video services, it should be no surprise that they have acquired this innovative company.

There is no doubt that the learnings Twitter gains from the startup will be integrated into their own services, such as Periscope and Vine. Indeed, this is something that Twitter’s Chief Executive, Jack Dorsey appeared to confirm when he stated: “Machine learning is increasingly at the core of everything we build at Twitter.”

Mr Dorsey confirmed it is hoped Twitter’s services will be improved from the learning transferred across from Magic Pony, stating: “Magic Pony’s technology – based on algorithms that can understand the features of imagery – will be used to enhance our strength in live and video.” 

Magic Pony’s patented technology can, according to Rob Bishop the CEO, improve the quality of images, especially video which has been captured on a phone where the lighting may not have been ideal. The technology can also sharpen pixelated images in live video or games.

Video quality is obviously very important for social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat, all of which are under a lot of pressure to compress uploaded video content so they can stream the content speedily. So with technology such as this, which improves the quality of such content, it’s no wonder Magic Pony has been snapped up by Twitter.

Magic Pony has a pretty impressive staff line-up with 11 of their 14 staff having PhDs. The startup has also been on the receiving end of numerous investments, with Entrepreneur First, Octopus Ventures and Balderton Capital all providing funding. Balderton Capital even provided the basement where the startup launched.

With the exception of CEO Rob Bishop, who will move to California, it seems the startup’s team will be based in the UK. The company will, according to Dorsey, form the basis of Twitter’s Europe artificial intelligence research team.

Partner of Balderton Capital, Suranga Chandratillake believes acquisitions such this provide an opportunity for Europe, stating that it is “a huge opportunity for Europe to be at the heart of the artificial intelligence revolution and do it off the back of US investment.”

In the past four years we have seen Amazon acquire Evi Technologies, an AI internet search startup ($26 million); Apple bought VocalIQ, a self-learning tech startup ($50-$100 million); Microsoft acquired Swiftkey, a smart keyboard startup ($250 million); and Google acquired DeepMind, an artificial intelligence startup  (£400 million).

So, with this latest acquisition of Magic Pony, it seems that British startups are really starting to gain popularity with Silicon Valley-based companies. Who will be next?