The world’s biggest IT companies including Microsoft, Google, Apple, Intel, Facebook, Twitter and Salesforce are racing to invest in, acquire, and absorb artificial intelligence startups, according to Hampleton Partners’ latest Mergers & Acquisitions Market Report on AI.

The technology M&A advisory firm’s report said the three key AI subsectors: machine data analysis, natural language processing and machine vision have all shown impressive growth rates over the past 24 months. But the machine data analysis category is attracting the most buyers, with half of all deals (49 percent).

Machine data analysis includes business and data analytics, forecasting models, big data machine learning, statistics recognition and predictions.

The next biggest sector for AI-acquisitions is machine vision, accounting for 31 percent of deals over the past 24 months. Video and image recognition and analysis are expanding into many sectors, from advertising to robotics and from physical security to healthcare analysis.

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Overall, the number of AI-related M&A deals has shown impressive growth year-on-year. Particularly encouraging for the long-term growth of the sector is the level of venture capital investment, with venture-backed early-stage AI companies securing more than $1.9 billion in just the first-quarter of 2018, the report said. These investments focused particularly on robotic automation, autonomous vehicles, and predictive analytics.

“It’s revealing to see that machine data analysis companies are being targeted most heavily by buyers, with the first quarter 2018 outperforming the first half of 2017,” said Heiko Garrelfs, director of Hampleton Partners. “The IT giants fully understand the importance of AI to data analysis, enabled by massive data sets and cheap, readily available and scalable computing power that are combining to change their businesses fundamentally.”

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