Apple has hired John Giannandrea, former Senior Vice President of Engineering, specifically search and Artificial Intelligence, at Google. In his new role running machine learning and AI strategy, Giannandrea will be reporting directly to Tim Cook, Apple's CEO.
The bombshell news was shared with Apple employees in a company email, first reported on by The New York Times:
"Our technology must be infused with the values we all hold dear. John shares our commitment to privacy and our thoughtful approach as we make computers even smarter and more personal."
AI is critical to the next great leap forward in computing. Ethical AI is critical to how we, as people, survive that leap.
Facebook has increasingly come under fire for how it does and could use AI to monetize and manipulate its users for advertising and influence peddling. Google, which has made a more public effort to balance deep insight with deep exploitation, still has to wrestle with what could happen when and if those two streams mix accidentally or maliciously at the expense of its users.
Apple, which makes its money selling customers goods and services rather than selling customers' attention and insight, could offer an important alternative when it comes to fielding everything from intelligent assistants to autonomous technologies.
Yet Apple's commitment to world-class AI has been called into question for years. Despite fielding AI at the silicon level with the 2017 A11 Bionic chipset, and using it to power features like Face ID, the company's once ground-breaking Siri personal assistant has fallen behind offerings from Google and Amazon, especially when it comes to consistency and third-party support.
How Giannandrea will change this remains to be seen.
Siri recently moved from Eddy Cue's internet services organization to Craig Federighi's software engineering organization at Apple. Still, myriad AI features and teams exist across the orgs, including initiatives like Core ML, computer vision in Photos, Face ID biometric authentication, and the autonomous special projects that Tim Cook, in a move almost unprecedented for Apple, commented on way in advance of any product announcements.
I've been hoping for a while that Apple would unify AI services as its own organization, similar to how it grew out silicon separately from hardware engineering. With Giannandrea reporting to Cook, perhaps he can do for services what johny Srouji has done for hardware techhnologies.