Facebook acquires UK AI and natural language startup

Tim Maytom

UK startup Bloomsbury AI has been acquired by Facebook, with the social network reportedly interested in using the firm's natural language processing (NLP) technology to help fight back against fake news.

Founded in 2015 by Guillaume Bouchard, Luis Ulloa and Sebastian Riedel, Bloomsbury is an alumni of Entrepreneur First, an accelerator that invests in technical and domain expertise talent, and has seen backing from Seedcamp, IQ Capital, Fly.VC and angel investor William Tunstall-Pedoe, who was also instrumental in the development of Alexa.

The deal is thought to be worth $23m - $30m (£17.4 - £22.7m) and while Bloomsbury's natural language AI is thought to have considerable value, industry analysts are also calling the purchase an 'acqui-hire', with Facebook more interested in the expertise of Bloomsbury's employees, in particular Riedel, the company's chief technical officer and head of research. As well as being a leader in NLP and professor at University College London, Riedel co-founded Factmata, another UK startup that focuses on combating fake news.

"We're excited to announce that the team behind Bloomsbury AI has agreed to join Facebook in London," said a Facebook spokesperson in a statement. "The Bloomsbury team has built a leading expertise in machine reading and understanding unstructured documents in natural language in order to answer any question. Their expertise will strengthen Facebook's efforts in natural language processing research, and help us further understand natural language and its applications.

"The team will help us grow our AI efforts in London, joining a roster of strong engineering talent. We look forward to welcoming them to Facebook and we can't wait to see what we build together."