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Yahoo snaps up natural language processing startup SkyPhrase

Yahoo is an Internet giant, but there's still one thing it can't do: understand natural language. So it's found someone who can.

Yahoo has revealed its acquisition of natural language processing startup SkyPhrase. The four-person SkyPhrase team will join the Yahoo Labs department in the New York City offices.

"In Yahoo, we have found a company that not only shares our vision, but delivers a rich collection of information and services to a massive user base," SkyPhrase said in a statement. "We are excited to join Yahoo Labs to continue to work on our shared vision of making computers deeply understand people's natural language and intentions. We can't wait to take things to the next level together."

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

As TechCrunch pointed out, SkyPhrase's NLP technology could find a niche home in fantasy sports — already an established Yahoo operation. According to the tech blog, the startup has already developed an ability to provide custom notifications when a certain action is triggered.

The purpose behind SkyPhrase's work is to build a system through which humans can communicate better with machines. Binary zeroes and ones could become actual words, and even the most computer illiterate may be able to find their way around email or news applications.

"We believe online information and services would be much more powerful and user friendly if people could tell computers what they want to accomplish using natural language," SkyPhrase said. "The technology we developed enables computers to understand more complex and precise human language than ever before."

Yahoo, of course, has not been shy about making acquisitions this year. Recently, it boughtimage-recognition startup IQ Engines, but the firm has also purchased recommendation app Jybe, news app Summly, to-do list Astrid, iOS photo-editor GhostBird, conference-calling service Rondee, inbox manager Xobni, mobile video app Qwiki, e-commerce site Lexity, andsocial browser Rockmelt. Not to mention the $1.1 billion (£724 million) purchase of popular blogging platform Tumblr, which Yahoo completed in late June.

Its bevy of new services seems to have done Yahoo good. As of September, the company has more than 800 million monthly active users — up 20 per cent since Marissa Mayer took the wheel at the struggling tech giant in July 2012. The milestone figure does not include Tumblr.