Microsoft has announced that it is acquiring AI startup Bonsai

Bonsai Team
Bonsai Team

Microsoft has announced that it is acquiring Bonsai – an AI startup focused on reinforcement learning.

The Berkeley-based startup specialises in reinforcement learning, a kind of trial and error approach to teaching a system within the confines of a simulation. That learning can be used to train autonomous systems to complete specific tasks. Microsoft says the acquisition will serve to forward the kind of research the company has been pursuing in the field by leveraging its Azure cloud platform.

Bonsai aims to democratize AI by making the technology accessible to business decision makers. It is abstracting the complexity involved in implementing reinforcement learning.

Mark Hammond, the co-founder, and CEO of Bonsai is not new to Microsoft. He had a short stint at Microsoft working as a developer evangelist and a consultant for Microsoft Research. For the last five years, Mark and his team focused their efforts on simplifying AI for businesses.

Bonsai’s acquisition is a significant deal for Microsoft on multiple fronts:

  • Microsoft set up its VC arm to nurture and incubate startups that have long-term potential. Bonsai’s acquisition is a win for M12, which increases its credibility in the startup ecosystem.
  • Microsoft is looking at AI as a key differentiator for Azure. From Azure ML Studio to CNTK, the company has invested heavily in making ML and AI accessible to developers and businesses. With Bonsai, Microsoft got a credible reinforcement learning AI platform, which fills a critical gap in its current portfolio.
  • By combining Bonsai with Azure IoT, Microsoft can build robust autonomous industrial systems for a variety of verticals such as manufacturing, healthcare and automobile.
  • Bonsai aligns well with Microsoft’s vision of Intelligent Cloud and Intelligent Edge. The models based on reinforcement learning can run at the edge bringing intelligence to devices.
  • With Bonsai acquisition, Microsoft got a leg up over the competition. It has better ammunition to compete with Google, which is investing aggressively in AI.
  • Finally, Bonsai completes Microsoft’s AI platform offerings through its focus on autonomous systems. From entry level ML platform to advanced AI platform of industrial systems, Microsoft now has the most comprehensive AI portfolio.

Read more about the acquisition via Forbes.