Cisco to build MindMeld artificial intelligence services in Spark

Cisco plans to build MindMeld artificial intelligence services into Spark. The AI maker also develops natural language interfaces for software and devices.

Collaboration software makers are in a race to develop artificial intelligence services that make their products stand out in the market. To pull ahead of the pack, Cisco plans to acquire AI vendor MindMeld.

Cisco said this week that it agreed to pay $125 million in cash for San Francisco-based MindMeld, which combines AI with natural language interfaces for applications and devices. The companies expect to close the deal by the end of July.

Cisco plans to use MindMeld technology in Spark, the company's team collaboration product. By purchasing MindMeld, Cisco believes it has an exceptional technology for building voice-activated personal assistants for Spark users.

"MindMeld has written the book on these technologies and has built the world's best conversational user interface platform," Rowan Trollope, head of Cisco's collaboration technology group, said in a company blog.

That may be so, but the use of artificial intelligence services in collaboration is just starting, so it's impossible to predict whether MindMeld will take Cisco ahead of its largest competitor Microsoft. The software maker has developed the Cortana voice interface, which Microsoft is building into a growing number of business applications. 

MindMeld versus Cortana

How MindMeld compares with Cortana is hard to say, but the former's artificial intelligence services have their strengths. "What makes MindMeld compelling is technology that supports machine learning at scale, support for specialized vocabulary libraries, and natural language parsing," independent analyst and TechTarget contributor Dave Michels said in a blog post.

MindMeld may weaken the Cisco-IBM partnership, which increasingly feels like smoke and mirrors to me.
Dave Michelsindustry analyst

In unified communications and collaboration, AI and machine learning, two of the hottest topics in computing today, hold the promise of significantly improving the ability of corporate employees to manage and share information.

Workers preparing for an online meeting in Spark could, for example, order a virtual assistant within the application to retrieve corporate documents or minutes from previous meetings. People could also command digital assistants to organize meetings.

Cisco could build MindMeld capabilities into recently released video conferencing hardware, such as the Room Kit and Spark Board, which doubles as an electronic whiteboard.

No guarantees

Despite the possibilities, execution is never guaranteed. Michels pointed out that Cisco has yet to deliver in Spark services promised when the company acquired Heroik Labs last October. At the time, Cisco said Heroik would provide "additional tools to help attract, retain and engage users before, during and after each meeting."

Also, the MindMeld acquisition casts a shadow on Cisco's partnership with IBM. Last July, Cisco announced plans to tap IBM's Watson cognitive computing platform in Spark. The deal also included combining Spark and Cisco's WebEx collaboration tools with IBM's Verse email platform and Connections social network for business.

"MindMeld may weaken the Cisco-IBM partnership, which increasingly feels like smoke and mirrors to me," Michels said.

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