The American multinational tech company Microsoft is in discussions to buy Nuance Communications, a speech and imaging applications firm, making a massive bet on healthcare artificial intelligence (AI).
Nuance, also based out of the US, is tied to the Siri voice technology (Apple’s speech recognition engine) and provides solutions that free doctors from note-taking and predict a patient’s needs better. Reports suggest that Microsoft may announce the deal, likely to be its largest since LinkedIn acquisition, soon if talks are successful.
Healthcare and AI
Microsoft has been trying to venture into the healthcare sector, selling more cloud software to hospitals and doctors. It has been working with Nuance for two years on AI software that helps clinicians capture patient discussions and integrate them into electronic health records, and combining the speech technology company’s products into its Teams chat app for telehealth appointments.
As AI software gets better at understanding language and predicting medical needs, Nuance and Microsoft may be able to develop technology that searches for certain words in health records to make better suggestions to doctors for patient care.
“This can really help Microsoft accelerate the digitization of the health-care industry, which has lagged other sectors such as retail and banking,” said experts. “The biggest near-term benefit that we can see is in the area of telehealth, where Nuance transcription product is currently being used with Microsoft Teams.”
Microsoft has also been increasingly focused on healthcare. In May last year, the software maker unveiled a package of industry-specific cloud software, and has also hired executives with medical backgrounds and researching machine learning and AI tools for areas including clinical trials.
Microsoft entered the artificial intelligence space decades ago with research projects and an early focus by co-founder Bill Gates on finding ways to make it easier for people to speak to computers using plain English.
The Nuance purchase will complement efforts in recent years, where Microsoft has assigned thousands of employees to its AI work and released tools customers can use to build applications that understand and translate speech, recognize images and detect anomalies. The company views AI as a key driver of future sales of cloud services.
The acquisition, which is reported to value Nuance at about US$56 a share, will also give Microsoft a boost as it faces fierce competition in the AI space with rivals such as Alphabet’s tech giant Google and eCommerce mammoth Amazon also investing heavily in the field.