Networking giant Cisco announced its second acquisition of the month yesterday with the $125 million purchase of privately held artificial intelligence (AI) company MindMeld.

Cisco plans to incorporate MindMeld’s AI technology into Cisco Spark, its collaboration suite, to help power human-like conversational interfaces.

Conversational Interfaces for Collaboration Tools

MindMeld specializes in developing conversational interfaces, such as those used to interact with chatbots providing customer support that are capable of supporting unstructured and semi-unstructured conversations. One of the most significant limitations of existing chatbots is their reliance on scripted responses, and inability to navigate the complexities of human conversation in natural ways, according to Cisco.

MindMeld has sought to address that challenge using a number of machine learning technologies, such as natural language processing, question answering, and dialog management. Cisco said MindMeld has already built the most advanced conversational user interface platform in the world.

The company's approach is based on something known as natural language understanding. In MindMeld's case, that means its platform ingests customer data to create a natural language model that is specific to a client’s industry and particular requirements. It also offers a dialog manager that enables a computer to respond to user requests through chat and voice applications in a human-like fashion.

But the purpose of the acquisition for Cisco seems to be less about providing enterprises with better tools for their customer service chatbots, and more about offering collaboration tools that are powered by AI interfaces.

Integration with Cisco Spark

"We are already leveraging AI/ML in new and exciting ways in existing products, from our SpeakerTrack to our VoiceTrack technologies," said Rowan Trollope, senior vice president of Cisco IoT and Applications group, in a blog post yesterday. "Bringing the MindMeld team to Cisco is a giant leap forward in helping our customers experience the next generation of interactive, conversational interfaces."

Although Cisco eventually plans to bring MindMeld's technology to services throughout its portfolio, the company said it will first start integrating the tech with its collaboration tools. The integration of MindMeld’s AI into Cisco Spark will allow enterprise users to interact with the platform using natural language commands. Enterprise customers can expect to soon see MindMeld's conversation technology making its way into Cisco Spark Spaces, Cisco Spark Meetings, and Cisco Spark Care in the near term.

The acquisition will bring 10 separate patents in machine learning into Cisco's portfolio, along with MindMeld's software and engineering teams. The company will join Cisco’s Cloud Collaboration group, where it will be renamed the Cognitive Collaboration team.

MindMeld is Cisco's second acquisition in the last two weeks. Earlier this month, the company said it was buying Viptela, a software-defined wide area network company, to better help enterprise clients manage large networks that are being overwhelmed by the proliferation of mobile and IoT devices.