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Bloomsbury AI becomes the latest UCL spinout to be acquired by a US tech giant

Facebook has confirmed it is buying Bloomsbury AI, a London startup specialising in natural language processing.

The social media giant revealed on Tuesday that the team behind the startup had “agreed to join Facebook in London”. A Facebook spokesperson was not able to confirm the value of the deal, but TechCrunch, which broke the news, reported that it was in the region of $23m-$30m.

“The Bloomsbury team has built a leading expertise in machine reading and understanding unstructured documents in natural language in order to answer any question,” Facebook’s statement reads. “Their expertise will strengthen Facebook’s efforts in natural language processing research, and help us further understand natural language and its applications.”

Bloomsbury claims its software is capable of reading text documents and answering questions about their contents, and that its team has published more than 60 patents since the company was founded in 2015. But the spokesperson described the deal as an “acqui-hire”, indicating Facebook has bought the company to poach its employees rather than its brand or intellectual property.

Two of the company’s founders, Sebastian Riedel (head of research) and Guillame Bouchard (CEO), have worked as senior academics at UCL, making the company just the latest AI startup with close links to the university to be acquired by a US tech giant. In 2014, Google bought DeepMind, whose co-founders Demis Hassabis and Shane Legg had met at the university, for a reported £400m.