What Happens When Academia & Industry Collaborate?

In the late 1990’s, Marian Bartlett was completing her doctorate in Machine Learning and Cognitive Psychology at UC San Diego and began to explore how images processed by the brain can intersect with the perception of a machine. She was interested in how facial recognition can reveal gut instincts and how accurate readings help predict decisions.

Fast forward to 2012, a team of four UC San Diego scientists collaborated at the university’s Machine Perception Laboratory, founded by Javier Movellan, and began working to revolutionize the artificial intelligence industry by creating what is now known as Emotient API, a facial recognition world of technology software that can read people’s emotions.

The AI industry has seen a big uptick of acquisition in the past few years. In 2016 alone, there have been 40 AI companies acquired by the likes of Apple, IBM, Google, Intel, Yahoo, and so on. These acquisitions demonstrate the direction that technology is going, whether we like it or not. There is a new wave of technology that will change the way we, as consumers, interact with brands and technology.

With the help of UC San Diego’s Office of Innovation and Commercialization, Emotient was able to leave the MP Lab and employ 50 people by the end of 2015. Ultimately, Apple placed a bid on Emotient and, in early January 2016, the company was acquired for an undisclosed sum [read: assumed large sum].

“We’re delighted at the success of Emotient getting purchased by Apple,” said Paul Roben, Associate Vice Chancellor for Innovation at UC San Diego. “This is how the system should work. We brought all of our innovation resources together, spun out a company, which developed a technology. This is going to generate enthusiasm for the kind of entrepreneurship we do here.”

Apple provided their standard response to this deal, stating that “Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans” but one can conjecture the types of work that will be done with this technology. Some have suggested that your home screen will soon predict the apps you want to use, enhance photo libraries, and more.

This acquisition is a great example of industry exercising open innovation. In the acquisition, Emotient was put in a position to accelerate the development of their product. Additionally, the team was hired by Apple in the acquisition. Apple gained a technology that will enable them to continue to be competitive with their products.

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