The purchase will reinforce the company’s AI product portfolio in the promising computer vision space

MTS’s focus on AI has been growing in recent months. Back in September, the operator launched a $100 million venture fund to invest in AI start-ups, with up to $20 million going to each company. MTS also pledged to invest up to $100,000 in start-ups in its accelerator programme.  

At the time, Alexey Posternak, CFO of MTS AI, said the investments would focus on start-ups working with language, image and behaviour analytics, edge computing, and logistics, since these were areas in which larger, more generalised investment funds were underrepresented. In contrast, he noted that the MTS fund would avoid areas like autonomous vehicles, which are already receiving heavy investment from other sources. 
Now, MTS has taken yet another step in this direction, with its subsidiary Intema announcing the acquisition of VisionLabs for 8 billion rubles (around $95 million). 
VisionLabs focusses on a subset of AI known as computer vision, whereby AI and deep learning is developed to help derive information from digital images. Based on the website, the company’s primary interest appears to be facial recognition technology, both for still images and video. The company has reportedly completed over 500 computer vision projects across 37 countries, in fields finance to transportation. 
This purchase will make VisionLabs Intema’s largest asset, with MTS saying that the move will allow the company to deliver “world class solutions for corporate clients in both Russia and abroad”. 
“Over the next few years, artificial intelligence technology will become a key driver for business and social development. At MTS AI, we are taking advantage of this window of opportunity by setting up Intema, which is focused on identifying promising AI-based concepts and product ideas that can be developed and launched with the help of investment and expert support,” explained Alexander Khanin, MTS AI CEO. “Looking ahead, we aim to create new breakthrough products at the intersection of diverse innovations from across our portfolio. At the same time, VisionLabs will continue to operate in line with its existing team and business strategy.”  
Facial recognition technology is undoubtedly an area of growing interest for the telecoms sector and beyond, with potential applications going far beyond security and into various commercial uses. On the other hand, of course, the technology also has great potential to be used for ill; Chinese tech giant Hauwei was notably embroiled in controversy last year when it became apparent that their work on the technology was able to scan and identify the persecuted Uyghur ethnic group, with the solution even automatically notifying police of their location.
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