Microsoft acquires Nuance—makers of Dragon speech rec—for $16 billion

A man with his sleeves rolled up speaks into a headset while staring at a laptop.
Enlarge / On this 2011 photograph, Dr. Michael A. Lee makes use of Dragon Medical voice-recognition software program to enter his notes after seeing a affected person.

Earlier in the present day, Microsoft introduced its plans to buy Nuance for $56 per share—23 p.c above Nuance’s closing value final Friday. The deal provides as much as a $16 billion money outlay and a complete valuation for Nuance of about $19.7 billion, together with that firm’s assumed debt.

Who’s Nuance?

In this 2006 photo, Rollie Berg—who has extremely limited use of his hands due to multiple sclerosis—uses Dragon NaturallySpeaking 8 to interact directly with his PC.
Enlarge / On this 2006 photograph, Rollie Berg—who has extraordinarily restricted use of his palms because of a number of sclerosis—makes use of Dragon NaturallySpeaking 8 to work together straight along with his PC.

Nuance is a widely known participant within the area of pure language recognition. The corporate’s expertise is the core of Apple’s Siri private assistant. Nuance additionally sells well-known private speech-recognition software program Dragon NaturallySpeaking, which is invaluable to many individuals with a variety of bodily disabilities.

Dragon NaturallySpeaking, initially launched in 1997, was one of many first commercially obtainable steady dictation merchandise—that means software program that didn’t require the consumer to pause briefly between phrases. In 2000, Dragon Programs was acquired by ScanSoft, which acquired Nuance Communications in 2005 and rebranded itself as Nuance.

Earlier variations of Dragon software program used hidden Markov models to puzzle out the that means of human speech, however this technique had severe limitations in comparison with fashionable AI algorithms. In 2009, Stanford researcher Fei-Fei Li created ImageNet—a large coaching knowledge set that spawned a growth in deep-learning algorithms used for contemporary, core AI tech.

After Microsoft researchers Dong Yu and Frank Seide efficiently applied deep-learning strategies to real-time computerized speech recognition in 2010, Dragon—now Nuance—utilized the identical strategies to its personal speech-recognition software program.

Quick ahead to in the present day, and based on each Microsoft and Nuance, medically focused variations of Dragon are in use by 77 p.c of hospitals, 75 p.c of radiologists, and 55 p.c of physicians in america.

Microsoft’s acquisition play

Microsoft and Nuance started a partnership in 2019 to ship ambient clinical intelligence (ACI) applied sciences to well being care suppliers. ACI expertise is meant to cut back doctor burnout and enhance effectivity by offloading administrative duties onto computer systems. (A 2017 study printed within the Annals of Household Medication documented physicians sometimes spending two hours of record-keeping for each single hour of precise affected person care.)

Buying Nuance offers Microsoft direct entry to the corporate’s complete well being care buyer checklist. It additionally offers Microsoft the chance to push Nuance expertise—at present, principally used within the US—to Microsoft’s personal massive worldwide market. Nuance chief government Mark Benjamin—who will proceed to run Nuance as a Microsoft division after the acquisition—describes it as a possibility to “superscale how we modify an business.”

The transfer doubles Microsoft’s whole addressable market within the well being care vertical to almost $500 billion. It additionally marries what Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella describes as “the AI layer on the healthcare level of supply” with Microsoft’s personal huge cloud infrastructure, together with Azure, Groups, and Dynamics 365.

The acquisition has been unanimously authorized by the boards of administrators of each Nuance and Microsoft and it’s anticipated to shut by the tip of 2021.

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