Answers Corp. announced that it had acquired Brainboost Technology LLC in a cash and stock deal worth up to $10 million as the Web search provider seeks to move beyond answering just "who?" or "what?" questions into answers that resemble natural human responses.
The New York-based company, which was formerly known as GuruNet, said it had agreed to pay $4 million in cash and 439,000 restricted shares in a deal worth between $9 million and $10 million at current stock levels.
Answers said it will meld Brainboost's answer-extraction technology into its own search system, which allows consumers to seek answers to questions from a database of 1.5 million topics in encyclopedias and other authoritative sources.
Mr. Assaf Rozenblatt, developer of the Brainboost proprietary technology, has joined the Answers.com team as Director of Natural Language Research.
Brainboost works by scouring digital content and extracting candidate answers to natural language queries, which experts say could prove to be the Holy Grail of accurate information search by allowing users to ask complex questions and receive full-sentence replies. It then ranks those candidate answers heuristically and displays the highest-confidence results in simple English form. Answers.com will apply Brainboost's answer extraction techniques not only to the Web at large, as implemented currently, but to Answers.com's own growing content library of attributed reference sources.
Such technology allows user to ask human questions like "Where is Iraq?" or "When was Microsoft founded?" and receive back the implied answer rather than just a list of simple Web links as mainstream Google or Yahoo search systems provide.
Answers.com is already the best place on the web to find answers to ‘Who is…’ and ‘What is…’ questions, explained Bob Rosenschein, CEO of Answers Corporation. By combining Brainboost’s answer extraction engine with our own technologies and our collection of over a million and a half topics from authoritative sources, we believe we will become the best place on the web for a far broader class of English-language questions. This strategic acquisition will dramatically accelerate our time to market on this critical next step in realizing Answers.com’s mission.
Assaf Rozenblatt, Brainboost’s founder and CTO, added, Artificial Intelligence is the key to the next generation of search and critical to creating the more intuitive user experience that people expect. The advances we have made in natural language query analysis can be harnessed to transform, at last, the way people find information on the Web. There could be no better home for this innovative technology than a product called Answers.com.
People are now forced to talk to machines rather than having machines talk like them, said John Blossom, president of Web research consulting firm Shore Communications Inc. of Westport, Connecticut. They are getting rather good at it.
Natural language search works best when queries are searched against a known set of documents like Answers.com's database of encyclopedias, dictionaries and other known sources.
Here is an opportunity to search a little more like a human being, Blossom said. Answers.com appears to have chosen technology that is well-matched to what they already offer.
Answers.com ranks as the 203rd most visited U.S. Web site according to data from Web traffic research firm Hitwise. The site benefits from being featured as the vocabulary reference link on Google Inc.'s search results tool bar.
The most impressive thing about Brainboost's technology is that its backers have the confidence to say when it does not have a response. "Sorry, I could not find any answers," the system politely replies to searches it does not comprehend.
By contrast, an early attempt by Ask Jeeves in the 1990s to offer such full-sentence replies fell short when searching Web information of varying quality.
In order for Answers.com to compete with the Google-type search engines, they need all of the help they can get. With this in mind, buying Brainboost was actually a smart move on their part.