Apple has been largely absent from the AI race. According to one media report, that’s not about to change anytime soon.
According to a report by The Information, Apple has lost at least three AI engineers – Srinivasan Venkatachary, Steven Baker, and Anand Shukl – who were working on AI models for Apple. They were personally poached by Google CEO Sundar Pichai, who was able to pitch Google to them as the better AI company, despite Apple CEO Tim Cook’s efforts to retain the employees.
Human editors helped guide Siri’s responses
According to former Apple AI employees, the tech giant was poorly organized and lacked ambition when it came to AI. As a result, little progress has been made over the past five years.
In particular, the Siri team was said to be in a “chaotic state” in 2018, and the assistant’s development suffered from management infighting over the direction in which the technology should be developed. Among other things, Apple was unable to collect up-to-date data on Siri usage.
Instead of relying on Siri’s AI-generated answers, Tim Cook and other decision makers around 2019 would have insisted that Siri’s answers be evaluated and edited by humans to avoid awkward or incorrect answers as much as possible. The design team had insisted on near-perfect answers, which was not possible with AI generation (at least at the time).
In addition, Apple’s strong stance on privacy contributed to the slow pace of Siri’s development, as it wanted as many processes as possible to run on the device rather than in the cloud – a goal that has since been achieved.
Apple’s design team also reportedly blocked a feedback feature for incorrect Siri answers in order to preserve the voice assistant’s “all-knowing” persona. This deprived the machine learning team of valuable information for optimization.
Apple and AI – it’s complicated
Apple’s AI chief, John Giannandrea, who sits on the board, talked back in 2020 about how artificial intelligence would change every aspect of the iOS or Mac experience in the future. So far, little of that has reached users.
Over the past six years or so, Apple has invested heavily in AI and related personnel, including hiring the aforementioned John Giannandrea and GAN inventor Ian Goodfellow from Google, who has since returned to Deepmind, i.e., back to Google. In May 2021, Apple hired veteran AI researcher Samy Bengio from Google to lead a new research division under Giannandrea.
Since 2016, Apple has acquired at least 25 AI companies, significantly more than Google (14), Microsoft (12), and Facebook (9). Apple has acquired startups in machine vision and training data optimization, among others. In summer 2022, Apple introduced GAUDI, an AI system that can generate 3D scenes from textual descriptions.