What Does Facebook’s Quiet AI Acquisitions Across UK Signify?

by February 17, 2020


The social media giant Facebook has always been at the forefront of AI advancement. Amid all the controversies and roadblocks in its strive to attain AI leadership, the company is moving forward with innovation and tech developments. These developments are a major result of its acquisitions; small but significant. Facebook’s M&A activities are proving to be quite beneficial in its AI journey. Recently, the company acquired Scape Technologies which is a London-based computer vision startup working on location accuracy beyond the capabilities of GPS.

Full terms of the deal remain as yet unknown, although a Companies House update reveals that Facebook Inc. now has majority control of the company (more than 75%). Further, a regulatory filings show that Scape’s previous venture capital representatives have resigned from the Scape board and are replaced by two Facebook executives.

Founded in 2017, Scape Technologies was developing a “Visual Positioning Service” based on computer vision which lets developers build apps that require location accuracy far beyond the capabilities of GPS alone.

Meanwhile, the acquisition by Facebook, no matter what form it takes, looks like a good fit given the US company’s investment in next-generation platforms, including VR and AR. It is also another — perhaps, worrying — example of US tech companies hoovering up UK machine learning and AI talent early.

Over the last few years, Facebook has been busy building out AI capabilities in areas like computer vision, natural language processing (NLP) and ‘deep learning,’ in part by acquiring promising startups in the space.

Understandably, this has seen the US social networking giant look to the UK for AI talent. It has been discovered that Facebook acquired Deeptide Ltd. (December 2019), the company behind Atlas ML, which is also the custodian of “Papers with Code,” the free and open resource for machine learning papers and code.

A regulatory filing for Deeptide reveals that Facebook became a majority owner on 13th December 2019. The same day, Atlas ML co-founder Robert Stojnic published a Medium post titled “Papers with Code is joining Facebook AI,” which went largely unnoticed outside of the machine learning research community.

Terms of the deal — or even that the acquisition took place — weren’t announced by Facebook at the time, beyond Stojnic’s sanctioned post.

Founded in 2018 by Stojnic and Ross Taylor, Atlas ML wanted to “make it easier to discover and apply deep learning research”.


Significance of Such Quite and Relatively Small Deals in the UK

Facebook’s deal-making shows that the talent wars are accelerating. “It’s gotten to the point where Elon Musk is inviting machine learning talent to his house to recruit for Tesla,” said Vincent Peters, who is the founder of RexMundi. “The acquisitions of Scape Technologies and Deeptide are all about Facebook acquiring talent that can build ML, which allows machines to visually recognize their surroundings and direct access to AI and ML talent that frequents resources for machine learning. Very few people have the technical aptitude to understand the different types of artificial intelligence and where to apply machine learning in meaningful ways.”

So yes, it does seem like a good bet that we will see more of these tuck-in deals. After all, there are many areas where Facebook can enhance its AI muscles.

“One thing that Facebook made clear during the keynote for F8 2019 is that the unprecedented scale of their operations means they have to solve unprecedented technological challenges, not only by leveraging existing technology but also by pushing the boundaries of what technology can already do,” said Thibaud Clement, who is the CEO and co-founder of Loomly. “We can, therefore, imagine that Facebook will need to fill similar gaps in the future, as they develop new activities and the world face unique social challenges: think fraud detection for payments, information authenticity during elections and content delivery in areas with slower networks—all of which can be automated and optimized through a combination of AI-enabled systems.”