Apple Acquires Laserlike in Another Move to Shore Up Siri

Apple confirmed to The Information (N.B. paywall) Wednesday that is has acquired Laserlike, which until recently offered mobile apps offering interest-based, personalized content search using machine learning. Laserlike was founded in 2015 by three former Googlers all with backgrounds in search: Steven Baker, Srinivasan Venkatachary, and Anand Shukla. Baker is named on 15 patents from his time at Google and oversaw the open domain question answering project where he worked with Venkatachary. That project eventually led to Google’s featured snippets. 

Venkatachary has a PhD in computer science from Washington University in St. Louis, Shukla earned a Masters degree in computer science from the University of Illinois, Baker has an undergraduate degree in computer science at Cornell and spent his last year at Google as a distinguished engineer overseeing “170+ engineers and research scientists across 6 engineering sites” according to his LinkedIn profile. Laserlike had raised $24 million in two rounds led by Sutter Hill Ventures and Redpoint according to TechCrunch. LinkedIn data suggests there were 18-20 employees at the company when acquired, most with software engineering, math, and statistics backgrounds.

Shoring Up Siri’s IQ

The Information positioned the acquisition as driven by Apple SVP John Giannandrea who oversees AI and Siri and was hired away from Google in early 2018. Giannandrea seems to be remaking the group, recently acquiring PullString and moving long-time Siri chief Bill Stasior to another role. PullString could enable Apple to make it easier for developers to build apps leveraging Siri and Laserlike could boost the voice assistant’s search and personalization capabilities. In several recent Q&A IQ tests, Siri has performed poorly compared to Google. A Loup Ventures evaluation in December found Siri was particularly lacking in its ability to answer general information and commerce-related queries.

The Laserlike team certainly has the pedigree to improve Siri’s search capabilities and has the type of background to address even more pernicious challenges such as voice app discovery. Apple is behind Alexa and particularly Google Assistant in many ways. Acquisitions could be the only way for it to catch up. Siri was an acquisition and initially put Apple at the head of the table in the voice assistant race. Regardless, after several years of seeming stasis around Siri and AI, Apple looks like it has a newfound commitment to moving forward on both fronts.


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