Former Apple Speech Scientist Joins Secretive Mobile Startup

A key speech scientist working on Apple’s Siri application has left the biggest company in tech to join a secretive new startup stocked with talent from the speech-technology world.

The startup, Semantic Machines, is headquartered in the Boston area and has an office in Berkeley, CA. One of its top employees is chief technology officer Larry Gillick, a highly regarded speech-technology expert who most recently was a chief speech scientist for Apple’s flagship virtual assistant program.

Semantic Machines doesn’t have much of an online presence yet, and declined to talk about its work, saying it was too early in the startup’s life.

But it’s apparently aimed at the same territory Siri targets. According to co-founder and CEO Dan Roth’s LinkedIn page, Semantic Machines is working on natural language processing and artificial intelligence technology “to revolutionize mobile voice enabled agents.”

Gillick was one of the core members of Apple’s office in the Boston area, which surfaced in late 2012 near the MIT campus in Cambridge, MA. Apple’s field office has since expanded, with commercial lease documents showing Apple has carved out room for about 65 people.

Gillick left Apple in October to join Semantic Machines, according to his LinkedIn profile. And he’s around some familiar faces—like Gillick, many of the company’s core leaders are veterans of Voice Signal Technologies, which was acquired by speech-tech leader Nuance for more than $290 million in 2007.

That includes CEO Roth, who was Voice Signal’s co-founder; Jordan Cohen, a former Voice Signal CTO who is listed as the new startup’s co-founder; and Semantic Machines finance chief Damon Pender, who also worked in finance at Voice Signal.

That’s an impressive roster of talent, which means Semantic Machines is worth keeping an eye on. The news also reinforces the strength of the speech-technology sector in the Boston area.

The region has long been known as the home of Nuance, which is a key partner for Apple’s Siri but is also famous for what many consider a bruising business style. In recent years, the biggest names in the tech industry have begun to stock up on speech-tech talent in the Boston area.

Today, Microsoft, Google, and Amazon all have significant speech-tech presences in Cambridge, with offices just off MIT’s campus. The fact that startups are cropping up as well, particularly if they’re able to recruit people away from Apple, is a good sign of the scene’s health.

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