Started in Waterloo, acquired by Microsoft Maluuba takes another step towards creating literate AI


Maluuba, a startup founded by two Waterloo alumni, has been acquired by tech giant, Microsoft. The company, which works on AI, deep learning and machine literacy, announced the change Jan. 13.

Currently, Maluuba has two offices, one in Waterloo and another in Montreal. The Maluuba team will be consolidated in Montreal this year. Terms of the acquisition have not been disclosed to the public.

Maluuba’s goal is to make it “possible for people to interact with machines for any task — no matter how complex — using language, the same way we interact with other people,” co-founder Sam Pasupalak said.

Maluuba founders Pasupalak and Kaheer Suleman deem Microsoft an excellent match for their company as their “new partnership enables us to advance more quickly towards our vision of creating literate machines.”

Under Microsoft, Pasupalak sees their vision coming true.

“[It] means we’ll get access to vast amounts of data, an essential component in training deep learning neural networks,” Pasupalak said. “Microsoft also has incredible computer power and resources that our team can use in their work. Most importantly, the shared culture of open, collaborative research makes us excited to be working with [Microsoft].”

Understanding language is complex according to Suleman.

“We see it as the ultimate holy grail in artificial intelligence research. We’ve built a team of leading researchers who are applying deep learning and reinforcement learning to create a literate machine,” said Suleman, who also acts as Maluuba’s CTO.

Suleman also weighed in on the growing role of AI.

“Artificial intelligence [transforms] our daily lives. There’s been a lot of great innovation in areas like computer vision and speech recognition, from driverless cars taking us places to smart devices in our homes listening out for our commands. At Maluuba, we’ve been focused on language.”

Suleman expects “that within five years we’ll see robots and artificial intelligence-powered services playing fundamental parts of our lives.”

They gave advice to entrepreneurs attending the University of Waterloo.

“Anyone can have an idea. The hard work is on executing that idea,” said Suleman. “If you’re thinking of starting a project or want to make a business you have to really want it and be willing to put in a lot of work for a long time.

Pasupalak said, if you do have an idea and you are committed then “go for it.”

“Get out there and make your MVP. Build it. Test it out. Ask your friends for feedback. Keep iterating.,” he added. If you figure out it’s not working, then pivot. Don’t get stuck. Keep trying and keep improving,” Pasupalak said.

According to Suleman, “it’s essential to take a product/market fit approach.”

“Start with the problem, not the solution. It’s very important that you research the market you’re exploring,” he said. Chances are, a lot of other people have thought of the same idea and someone may have already built a solution. Study more. Do your research. Become an expert on the subject.”