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In quest for better AI, tech behemoths gobble up smaller companies: Study

Mario Queiroz speaks about the Google Home speaker during a presentation of new Google hardware in San Francisco, October 4, 2016.
Beck Diefenbach | Reuters
Mario Queiroz speaks about the Google Home speaker during a presentation of new Google hardware in San Francisco, October 4, 2016.

Tech giants are hungry for artificial intelligence.

In a race to create the best AI solutions in an increasingly hot sector, U.S. tech behemoths like Alphabet's Google and iPhone maker Apple have been quietly snapping up dozens of artificial intelligence companies over the last five years, according to a recent report from analysis firm CB Insights.

The firm's data sheds new light on a trend that's been evolving for years. Nearly 140 private companies working to advance AI technology have been acquired since 2011, including 40 buyouts just this year, CB noted.

From Google's Assistant to Apple's Siri; Microsoft's Cortana to Facebook chatbots, tech companies appear to be locked in a fierce competition to create autonomous technology that can understand users' needs, and provide information quickly and reliably, CB Insights noted. In addition, companies like AOL, IBM and Yahoo were also among the acquirers, CB said.

The report comes as Silicon Valley makes increasingly aggressive inroads into AI, and last week, Microsoft created an artificial intelligence unit of its own. It's a hot market that research firm Tractica estimates will balloon from $643.7 million in 2016 revenues to $38.8 billion by 2025.

Google has been the most prominent global player, CB noted, with 11 low-key acquisitions in the category. Most recently, the tech giant picked up Api.ai, a platfom used to develop chatbots. Earlier this year, Google CEO Sundar Pichai said the company objective was to give each individual user their own Google.

And last week, Google unveiled a high-end smartphone, Pixel, and home device installed with its AI software. Google said it believes that the next opportunity is building hardware and software together for better AI. The strategic move pitted the company against Amazon's Alexa and Apple's Siri.

Corporate giants following closely in purchasing AI companies include Intel and Apple. Apple, which is usually quite about its acquisitions and planning, acquired Turi and Tuplejump recently, according to CB Insights. Earlier this year, Apple acquired an start-up called Emotient which has developed technology that can detect emotions.

Not to be outdone, Samsung snapped up startup Viv Labs, amid a growing controversy over reports that its premium Galaxy Note 7 battery was exploding.