Twitter acquires machine learning start-up Magic Pony

Twitter has stepped up its efforts in the machine learning arena after announcing the acquisition of visual processing technology company Magic Pony.

While the company claims machine learning is central to the brands capabilities, it has been relatively quiet in the market segment in comparison to industry heavy weights such as IBM, Google and Microsoft. This is the third acquisition the team has made in this area, reported to be in the range of $150 million, following the purchase of Whetlab last year and Mad Bits in 2014, compared to Google who acquired Jetpac, Dark Blue Labs and Vision Factory, as well as $500 million on DeepMind, all in 2014.

“Machine learning is increasingly at the core of everything we build at Twitter,” said Jack Dorsey, Twitter CEO. “Magic Pony’s machine learning technology will help us build strength into our deep learning teams with world-class talent, so Twitter can continue to be the best place to see what’s happening and why it matters, first. We value deep learning research to help make our world better, and we will keep doing our part to share our work and learnings with the community.”

The acquisition follows Twitter’s announcement last week advertisers will now be able to utilize emoji keyword targeting for Twitter Ads. Although a simple proposition in the first instance, the new features did open up the opportunity for machine learning enhanced advertising solutions.

Magic Pony, which was founded in 2014 and currently has 11 employees, was acquired to bolster the visual experiences that are delivered across Twitter apps. The team will link up with Twitter Cortex, the in-house machine learning department, to improve image processing expertise.

The technology itself makes use of the abilities of convolutional neural networks to scale-out an image. By taking the information in a picture, the technology imagines a larger and more in-depth image by scaling out the detail which it sees. Much in the same way a human can imagine the rest of a car by seeing the door, the technology learns lessons from previous experiences and applies logical decisions moving forward.

Magic Pony itself was initially supported by investment from Octopus Ventures who have seemingly found a specialty in finding promising AI start-ups. Prior to Magic Pony being acquired by Twitter, Octopus Ventures invested it Evi which was acquired by Amazon in 2012, and SwiftKey which was acquired by Microsoft this year.

“Today marks a great day for the Magic Pony team,” said Luke Hakes, Investment Director at Octopus Ventures. “We’re proud to have believed in the concept early on and to then have had the privilege of joining their journey. The technology Magic Pony has developed is revolutionary and pushes the boundaries of what is possible with AI in the video space.

“The UK continues to grow as the ‘go-to’ place for companies looking to build best in breed AI technology – Octopus has been fortunate to work with the founders of three companies in this space that have gone on to be acquired, with Evi and Amazon, SwiftKey and Microsoft, and now Magic Pony and Twitter. We are excited for the Magic Pony team, but also to take what we have learnt on the last three journeys and help the next generation of entrepreneurs lead the way in the on-going AI revolution.”