Apple poaches Google AI chief

in People

Dive Brief:

  • In an attempt to catch up in the artificial intelligence (AI) race, Apple has poached John Giannandrea, Google's senior vice president of engineering, The New York Times reported. At Google, where he was a top executive, he was in charge of search and AI.
  • Giannandrea will run "machine learning and AI strategy" at Apple and will be one of 16 executives who report directly to CEO Tim Cook. 
  • he hire is viewed as a win for Apple, which is lagging its peers in AI, seen as vital for tech companies as computers handle increasingly complex tasks, such as voice technology, and facial and body recognition.
  • Dive Insight:

    Among the best known artificial minds, Apple's Siri lags behind Google Assistant, Microsoft's Cortana and Amazon's Alexa. Can Siri get smarter? Apple is betting on it by hiring Giannandrea away from Google. In Silicon Valley, machine-learning talent is in short supply, according to Business Insider.

    While Siri needs some tutoring to better compete in the world of smart, voice-controlled speakers, according to Fortune, the Apple AI already is well-regarded for its virtual-assistant functionality on iOS devices, where the technology is tightly integrated with the iPhone and iPad operating system.

    Part of Apple's disadvantage in AI owes to its commitment to privacy, something not shared by all competitors, said Fortune. The company has said it is working on training its algorithms without breaking its promise to protect privacy.

    "Our technology must be infused with the values we all hold dear," Cook said in an email to staff members obtained by The New York Times. "John shares our commitment to privacy and our thoughtful approach as we make computers even smarter and more personal."

    Apple has been building up its AI team in recent years, reported MacRumors. The company hired Russ Salakhutdinov, a Canegie Mellon researcher, to lead an AI team, and last October hired a team through an acquisition of Init.ai, a startup focused on creating AI for customer service that uses natural language processing and machine learning to study human chat-based conversations.

    MacRumors also noted an increase in the number of positions Apple is advertising on its website that use the word "Siri," an indication of a growing emphasis on AI.

    At Google, Giannandrea's job included the effort to integrate AI throughout Google products, including internet search, Gmail and Google Assistant, according to the Times. Despite his departure, Google will likely carry on with its deep bench. Giannandrea's job function will be split between two people: Jeff Dean, who has been with Google since the beginning, will take on AI; while Ben Gomes will be in charge of search development, Fortune reported.

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