Twitter pays up to $150M for Magic Pony Technology, which uses neural networks to improve images



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Pictured Rob Bishop and Dr Zehan Wang, co-founders of Magic Pony Technology
Pictured Rob Bishop and Dr Zehan Wang, co-founders of Magic Pony Technology

Twitter today is taking another step to build up its machine learning muscle, and also potentially to improve how it delivers photos and videos across its apps: the company isacquiring Magic Pony Technology (that is really the name), a company based out of London that has developed techniques of using neural networks (systems that essentially are designed to think like human brains) and machine learning to provide expanded data for images — used, for example, to enhance a picture or video taken on a mobile phone; or to help develop graphics for virtual reality or augmented reality applications.

Terms of the deal are not being disclosed but we have two separate sources who tell us that Twitter is paying $150 million in all for the deal. This takes into account retention bonuses for the staff, which numbers about 11, including co-founders Zehan Wang and CEO Rob Bishop.

“Machine learning is increasingly at the core of everything we build at Twitter,” said Jack Dorsey, Twitter CEO and co-founder, in a statement. “Magic Pony’s machine learning technology will help us build strength into our deep learning teams with world-class talent, so Twitter can continue to be the best place to see what’s happening and why it matters, first. We value deep learning research to help make our world better, and we will keep doing our part to share our work and learnings with the community.”

This is the second machine learning startup Twitter has acquired in the UK, after Whetlab last year, and second in the area of machine learning used for machine learning for images, after acquiring Madbits in 2014.

Magic Pony Technology had raised an undisclosed amount of money from investors likeEntrepreneur First and Balderton. One of Balderton’s ex-VC’s n fact, invested in the company.

We first learned about Magic Pony Technology when they caught our eye after they presented last year at a Pitch@Palace, a tech event put on at St James’ Palace in London.

It made a few further waves this year, as it further revealed the way that its technology worked to help enhance visuals with information that may not be in the picture itself, but essentially be recreated from composites of similar pictures, much like how the human eye works. In fact, one anecdote I’ve read about the origin of the name “Magic Pony” is that it’s a reference to the remarkable nature of what they do. (“It’s unbelievable, like a magic pony!”)

The company, however, by and large has remained fairly under the radar, with a website that has never offered more than a simple statement about what it does and the number of patents that it has filed. There are around 20 now, with several of them listed here, which will now belong to Twitter.