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Apple hires Google AI guru to smarten up simple Siri

Machine Learning

Apple might be one of the most powerful companies on the planet, with a loyal army of fans lauding the technological superiority of the iPhone, but Siri is as useful as an iron in a washing machine. The latest hire might help.

According to the New York Times, who managed to get hold of a memo from Apple CEO Tim Cook, the iLeader has hired John Giannandrea, a man who led the internet giant’s search and artificial intelligence, to lead the machine learning and AI strategy. Giannandrea will now become one of 16 executives who will report directly into the CEO, and will be responsible for ensuring Apple doesn’t remain way at the back of the AI pack.

“Our technology must be infused with the values we all hold dear,” said Cook in the memo. “John [Giannandrea] shares our commitment to privacy and our thoughtful approach as we make computers even smarter and more personal.”

Siri might be a simpleton, but this is a major hire for Apple. Software and services is the way forward, but for the profits to be realised in this world intelligence has to be embedded in building blocks of the products on offer. While handset manufacturers are all looking into new areas such as virtual assistants or personalisation for content, Apple’s efforts have not been great.

In terms of Giannandrea’s experience, prior to joining Google Giannandrea was the CTO of Metaweb Technologies, a San Francisco-based company that developed Freebase and was acquired by Google in 2010. At Google, Giannandrea was central to the AI efforts which now drive all aspects of the business. The Google virtual assistant looks like it could evolve the search advertising business model, moving the emphasis from type/touch to voice, while personalised advertising is making steps forward and intelligent mapping solutions are becoming increasingly attractive. A broad brush approach could also be expected at Apple.

Apple has been making the right noises about its AI development, with a couple of decent hires and acquisitions in recent months, indicating the team recognise the problems. Apple has long survived on hardware expertise and an incredible brand, but this will not work in the digital economy. The iCultists might have been able to put up to a closed ecosystem to date, but whether the same individuals would be able to endure sloppy technology, clunky intelligence and irritating interfaces is less likely.

While Giannandrea might be an excellent hire, there might only be so much he can do to catch with the leaders in the world. Google has a search engine which collects data to train its AI software, while Amazon has a content platform, the world’s largest eCommerce site and a popular smart speaker which is now collecting data directly from the consumer, just like Google. The other notable AI player is IBM, a company which has developed a huge number of partnerships to get hold of data. Giannandrea might be an AI hotshot, but Apple has a lot of work to do.

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