Facebook acquires speech-recognition IoT startup Wit.AI

Facebook has acquired Wit.AI, a San Francisco-based startup building a speech-recognition platform for the internet of things. The company launched early in 2014 raised a $3 million seed round in October from a group of investors including Andreessen Horowitz, Ignition Partners and NEA.

Wit.AI has about 6,000 developers on its platform, which allows users to program speech-recognition controls into their devices and deliver the capabilities via API. When I spoke with co-founder Alex Lebrun in May, he explained that his ultimate goal is to power artificially intelligent personalities like those in the move Her, but the company’s present focus is on helping power devices that can respond to simple voice commands. At the time, he said, Wit.AI was working with SmartThings on its line of connected devices, and was in talks with Nest before the Google acquisition.

Here’s how Wit.AI characterized its decision to join Facebook in a blog post announcing the deal:

[blockquote person=”” attribution=””]Facebook has the resources and talent to help us take the next step. Facebook’s mission is to connect everyone and build amazing experiences for the over 1.3 billion people on the platform – technology that understands natural language is a big part of that, and we think we can help.

The platform will remain open and become entirely free for everyone.[/blockquote]

For Facebook, acquiring Wit.AI gives it another opportunity to expand its platform into the world of connected devices and even smart homes without relying on speech-recognition technology developed by often-competitive companies. Much like Amazon has its Echo device, and Google has both the Android ecosystem and the Nest division, Facebook, too, likely wants a way to let users touch it when neither a keyboard nor a conventional computing device is around.

And, as a reader pointed out to me on Twitter, that probably happens a lot more in the developing world where Facebook expects to grow a lot in the years to come.