Back in December, we noted that an SF-based start-up called Expect Labs was working with Nuance Communications (and others) to deliver a showcase iPad application called MindMeld. The demo was an impressive display of what the company calls “Anticipatory Computing.” Like Google Now, it is the product of constant monitoring and analysis of human input (words, gestures, location…) for the purpose of delivering relevant items (search results) from a set of defined sources on the Internet or World Wide Web. In the case of MindMeld, for example, if two people start talking about “happy hour” near the end of work day, the app may display specials and offer suggested watering holes based on local information from Yelp! or other local search sources.
That’s the low-hanging fruit. It was enough to garner a reported $2.4 million in seed financing from Google, Greylock, Bessemer, IDG Ventures, KPG Ventures and Quest Venture Partners. This week, Expect Labs added three new investors whose contributions “more than equaled” the previous investment. More importantly, it signals great future expectations in three distinct opportunity areas. Device manufacturer Samsung has never been shy about adding new features and functions that define the “natural user interface.” With its competitive sights set squarely on defeating Apple’s iOS-based devices in the marketplace, Samsung is motivated to continually differentiate. Spoken words, gestures, touch and other signals of user intent must be taken into account. Expect Labs’ core technologies will be expected to make the most of matching all that input with relevant responses.
For Intel, the value of what Expect Labs should be equally obvious. Making sense out of voluminous amounts of diverse inputs will be extremely computing-intensive. Expect Labs is creating products and services that showcase the power of what Intel calls Perceptual Computing, which is Intel’s term for technologies designed to render the mouse unnecessary by replacing it with more natural user interfaces, including speech, gestures and touch. Intel has issued a software development kit (SDK) to encourage creative input from app developers around the world. All the different modalities of input represent more grist or other raw material for Expect Labs’ core technology platform, the Anticipation Engine.
The participation of Telefonica Digital represents a wise investment by a very forward-looking, global telephone company. Parent company, Telefonica, is the seventh diversified telecommunications company and the fifth largeset wireless carrier. Telefonica Digital was formed last year as a global business unit focused growing a diverse set of digital assets through R&D, acquisition or partnerships. It has identified cloud computing, mobile advertising, M2M and eHealth as focus areas, but management well understands that fostering and delivering applications and services that leverage “Big Data” and “Cloud Computing” to serve over 315 million customers will be its growth engine. Expect Labs’ Anticipation Engine, residing in Telefonica Digital’s cloud and hoovering up user input and scads of real-time data suits Telefonica’s requirements very nicely.
There is a lot of fertile ground where Perceptual Computing meets Anticipatory Engines. The resulting products and services will define one of the families of Virtual Personal Assistants (VPAs) that are destined to redefine mobile search and ecommerce. Results from the Anticipation Engine already have many similarities to the latest features of Google Now, which uses a form of Anticipatory Computing to provide relevant information to support daily planning (like weather, travel plans, traffic conditions and other factors like restaurant reservations or movie show times). Solutions developers are making great strides in figuring out when, where and how it is reasonable to expect this type of automated system to be of assistance to individuals. It is a long-term learning process by both humans and machines.
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