Apple’s Siri is as important as iPhone or the Mac

That’s why it sits on the executive board

Apple, AI, machine intelligence, machine learning, adversarial networks, iOS, iPhone, Siri
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Apple now sees AI as being as important as its retail, services, hardware, software or design arms – and that’s why machine intelligence now has a seat on the company's executive board.

How Apple works

Think about how Apple works. Former CEO Steve Jobs deliberately organized the company so that it fostered topic-related expertise.

Company executives reflect this – most have been involved in their department (marketing or hardware design) for the majority of their Apple careers. They are experts in their field.

What that means is different teams have different needs and different responsibilities. That’s why a procurement official sent to China to source components for an unreleased and unannounced Apple device didn’t realize they were ordering the parts for the original iPhone until after the product was announced.

The official was very good at sourcing components but was not involved in the top-secret Apple design process.

What does this have to do with AI?

Quite a lot: Apple’s recent decision to put ex-Google AI chief John Giannandrea into position as senior vice president of machine learning and AI strategy shows it understands AI as a peer-player pillar of expertise upon which the future of the company will be built.

In what will prove to be a highly important recent move, Apple hired generative adversarial networks (GAN) inventor Ian Goodfellow.

GAN is a powerful AI technology that basically pits two AI models against each other in order to make the other improve. You might have one AI trying to generate fake images and another that works to tell which images seem fake, for example.

A pillar for the future

Apple’s move to put an AI expert on the board and to continue recruiting industry leaders the same time it is pushing home its pro-privacy messages shows the elevated status machine intelligence now has across the company.

This activity really is not just about Siri the friendly assistant – it’s about creating devices that think for you and for themselves.

When it comes to autonomous machine learning, most commentators usually drive directly into the idea of autonomous vehicles, but it is important to note how much use Apple already makes of these technologies. You'll find some form of AI used in Photos, News, various recommendation engines, Siri Shortcuts, fraud control on its stores, and a host of other ways.

Recruitment drive

Of course, as Apple expands its services, it is also expanding its machine learning teams.

At present there are hundreds of jobs that include the term "Machine Learning" on Apple’s recruitment website, including one for a Siri Machine Learning Manager.

“This position offers the right person a chance to play an important role in the next revolution in machine learning and human-computer interaction,” Apple states.

A glance through the ads shows how the company now sees AI: as a foundational technology that is to be woven into products and services from all across the company.

They make fascinating reading.

Among other things, the job ads also reveal Apple to be developing next-generation local search tools for Apple Maps and to be investing in AI for health and wearables.

Among many other roles, Apple seeks experts to help it build smart Photos and Camera functions and to use machine imaging to drive next-generation services.

In fact, you'll probably find implementations of machine learning across almost every component, product, or service offered by the company referenced somewhere in those recruitment ads.

Privacy is powerful

Things have changed quite rapidly in AI.

Some of the greatest minds in the field now recognize the need for an ethical approach in the development and deployment of machine learning solutions.

Many are dismayed that data analytics and AI on social networks have been subverted to the detriment of democratic consensus.

There is also growing concern that poorly made AI could deliver egregious social impacts, similar to Shirley Cards and their impact on photography.

Plus, one recent study seemingly found autonomous vehicles were better at avoiding pedestrians with lighter skin tones.

AI experts use a phrase to describe poor information that generates poor results: garbage in, garbage out.

However, most people who spend their lives developing new technologies aspire to build something more than garbage.

The idea that privacy is essential protection in a digitally connected age of smart machines is growing rapidly among the world’s leading research scientists, whose job is to know about the connection between these things.

This growing consensus is surely of benefit to any company that seeks to develop cutting-edge AI solutions that also protect privacy.

The tech firm that can offer scientists the chance to develop machine learning tools that also protect ethics and privacy may attract the world’s best talent in the field.

Apple's many critics like to claim the company lags behind others when it comes to AI, though it is arguable that in doing so they neglect to mention the compromise between privacy and convenience some machine intelligence models still require.

Cook’s many warnings of the dangers of unaccountable surveillance capitalism confirm that the company sees another way to achieve effective AI.

Apple’s position is that it strives to deliver cutting-edge services that also protect privacy. Many of the world’s leading machine learning experts want the same thing.

Apple's move to put its top AI chief on its executive board shows that it sees ethically applied machine learning as a foundational technology across all its products and services.

It sends a message to experts in the field seeking the chance to develop new AI models that don't damage trust, who may also be pleased to learn that Apple is hiring.

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Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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