It was muttered curiously by people in Bengaluru at a popular coffee shop. “Did you hear about the company Google acquired,” one told another. “They used to work right across the road.” Right across the road is Investopad. A co-working space and an incubator.

What they were talking about is the acquisition of Halli Labs by Google, a subsidiary of Alphabet Inc, on 12 July. Halli Labs was four months old. It was working, according to a few people familiar with the company, on a speech-to-text system, which was shelved soon after it was developed. What else? No one really knows. It has just one statement on the website: We are excited to share that Halli Labs team is joining Google. Simply put, it was an acqui-hire. Acqui-hire is a term used when a company is acquired primarily for the employees rather than the actual company, product or technology.

It’s easy to say that Google is on an acquisition spree, with a strong focus on artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. Over the last five years, it has bought 11 AI startups across the world. Halli Labs is its 12th. The first in India.

Name Year Country
Halli Labs 2017 India
Dark Blue Labs 2014 UK
Jetpac 2014 USA
Deep Mind Analytics 2014 UK
DNN Research Inc 2013 Canada
Moodstocks 2016 France
Kaggle 2017 USA
Timeful 2015 USA
Emu 2014 USA
Vision Factory 2014 UK
Granata Decision Systems 2015 Canada
Source: The Ken Research

There is a plan. Employees at Google say it’s CEO Sundar Pichai’s grand scheme. Over the last 12-18 months, Google has been repurposing itself as an “AI-first” company from its previous mobile-first approach. The company intends to apply AI to solve literally, everything. It includes the company’s ambitious Next Billion Users (NBU) programme, which seeks to address the key challenges in emerging markets like India, Brazil, Indonesia and the Philippines, among others. Its products and services are specifically designed to suit the internet and mobile infrastructure in those markets: Access and connectivity, device constraints and internet speeds, among others.