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Apple Quietly Acquires Machine Learning Specialist Lattice Dark

Apple is known for its quiet but extremely strategic acquisitions, and its latest deal is no different. Over the weekend, news broke that the iPhone maker bought a company called Lattice Dark, which specializes in "dark" data.

The deal between Apple and Lattice Dark appears to have been finalized several months ago, although rumors of an acquisition have floated around over the last several weeks. Finally, on May 13, an Apple spokesman confirmed the agreement to Fortune, without offering much in the way of details.

The only thing more mysterious than Apple's acquisition strategy is Lattice Dark itself.

The company was founded in 2015 and was developing commercial applications that grew out of DeepDive, a framework for statistical inference, which started as a Stanford research project. Here's how Lattice Dark describes itself on its LinkedIn page:

"Our platform reads unstructured media and converts it into structured data that can be used by traditional data analysis tools. We use advanced machine learning techniques, coupled with a rigorous engineering approach, to outperform human readers in many fields including scientific, insurance and government applications."

Lattice Dark was founded by Chris Re, who worked on the DeepDive project at Stanford and has received a MacArthur Genius Award, along with Mike Cafarella, a co-creator of Hadoop.

Before the acquisition, Lattice Dark received about $20 million in funding, including an investment from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency or DARPA. The company's technology has been used to fight human trafficking, according to LinkedIn.

Apple reportedly paid $200 million for Lattice Dark, according to CrunchBase. The company has about 30 employees.

What's not clear is what Apple would use Lattice Dark's technology for in its portfolio.

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From what little information is available, it seems the company is looking to gather and organize dark data from the web and structure it though machine learning and artificial intelligence, as well as making this process more automated.

If Apple could organize this unstructured, dark data, and then process it through AI and machine learning, it could help build out the capabilities of its Siri assistant by making its recommendations more intuitive.

Apple has acquired other AI and machine learning companies over the past several years, including Turi and Vocal IQ.

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— Scott Ferguson, Editor, Enterprise Cloud News. Follow him on Twitter @sferguson_LR.

kq4ym 5/17/2017 | 5:58:37 PM
Re: As significant as iOS? Maybe a clue is in the description cited as it " reads unstructured media and converts it into structured data." Could that mean it can look at video and extract what's being seen and convert it to the structured data of faces locations, maybe even intent? In any case the military funding is a clue that there's some sort of surveillance possibilities here.
mhhfive 5/15/2017 | 4:34:00 PM
Re: As significant as iOS? Well, even Microsoft is starting to embrace open source now, so I think we're going to see some major shifts towards openness for all the big tech firms. At least for software development, that is. I'm sure hardware development plans will remain as secretive as ever... if not more so.
Scott_Ferguson 5/15/2017 | 3:52:45 PM
Re: As significant as iOS? @mhhfive: Agreed and I think that worked well in the Jobs era of the company when he was a larger than life figure, but the company needs to stand on its own and that means adjusting to new ways, including the companies they are chasing and those chasing Apple.
Scott_Ferguson 5/15/2017 | 3:51:30 PM
Re: As significant as iOS? @danielcawrey: That's a really good point and one that I was looking to make inside the article. I think this has a lot to do not only with Apple, but with Google, Microsoft and Amazon building devices that will truly anticipate what the end users wants. On the enterprise side, you have Cisco looking to build intelligence into the network. 
mhhfive 5/15/2017 | 3:40:47 PM
Re: As significant as iOS? One thing that gives Apple a bit of an Achilles heel is its secretive nature. Whereas Google tends to hire open source developers by the busload, Apple has only recently allowed its employees to publish algorithmic work publicly. 

Perhaps Lattice Dark will help Apple with its efforts to protect privacy while still mining data for information... 
danielcawrey 5/15/2017 | 1:30:15 PM
Re: As significant as iOS? I have a hunch what this would be used for. 

Apple can really separate itself from the pack if its platforms were able to act as an assistant for users. Learning what users need before they need it. People would pay a ton for that! 
Scott_Ferguson 5/15/2017 | 1:08:12 PM
Re: As significant as iOS? @mhhfive: That's a really interesting take. Lattice Dark does have a lot of brain power behind it and some interesting objectives for what they are developing. The fact that Apple sees value in unstructured, dark data is for sure an assault on Google, as well as Amazon and its Alexa assistant.
mhhfive 5/15/2017 | 12:53:13 PM
As significant as iOS? I have a feeling that this acquisition might be as significant as the development of iOS back when iPods were just music players. Apple is catching up to Google in the machine learning space slowly and secretly, and maybe it will be able to turn this company's capabilities into a much more useful Siri and trump other search assistants. They could also use this tech to help with future product developments by data mining web forums for what features consumers are panning/proclaiming.
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