Monday, April 09, 2018

Apple Hire’s Google’s AI Chief To Help Boost Siri

In a bid to develop Siri and catch up with competitors in the digital assistant battle, Apple has hired Google’s top AI man, John Giannandrea.

Falling Behind

The battle to dominate the digital assistant market has been going on for some time now, but industry commentators have noted that Apple’s Siri, which was first introduced on the iPhone 4S in 2011, has fallen behind the competition i.e. Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant.

Siri Problems

The problems that have plagued Apple’s Siri since its early lead and subsequent falling behind in the market are thought to include:
  1. Infighting and internal politics within the Siri team at Apple.
  2. Too many attempts to reorganise the basic underpinning technology.
  3. Press criticism of the poor AI in Apple’s HomePod - the company’s attempt to compete with Amazon’s Echo and Google’s Home smart speakers.
Hiring

Apple has, therefore, sought to quickly boost its expertise in AI and machine learning through hiring-in the top talent.
John Giannandrea joined Google in 2010 and previously worked as Netscape's chief technologist. Mr Giannandrea is widely credited as being responsible for rebuilding the technology that is now at the heart of Google’s landmark products, which include search, translation and voice recognition. He is also recognised as being the person responsible for putting Google on a par with Amazon for technological supremacy in the field of voice-controlled assistants.

As well as hiring Google’s top AI man, Apple is also reported to have posted adverts for 160 other openings for work related to improving Siri.

Other high profile hires by Apple in the AI field in recent times include Carnegie Mellon professor Russ Salakhutdinov who studied at the University of Toronto under Geoffrey Hinton, who helps to oversee the Google Brain lab.

Different Approach

One of the key challenges that Giannandrea and the other news recruits will have to address is how to dramatically improve the AI and machine learning performance of Siri while giving it less detailed data for its AI training. This is because Apple has decided to take a different approach to Amazon and Google in terms of trying to gather less personal data about its users.
Apple believes that it can still produce good AI personalisation results for Siri users with a smaller dataset, and hopes that customers will value its attempts to protect their privacy, and that this will add to the positive differentiation of Siri.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The big tech companies can see the future potential value of widening the range of services that can be offered via digital assistants. As well as being able to access them through our mobile devices, smart speakers are now commonplace in many UK homes, and there will soon be business-focused versions.

The hope is that we will use our digital assistants for almost all of our daily activities e.g. paying bills, purchasing, and calling friends and customers. This illustrates why it is so important for Apple to quickly catch up with competitors and to make sure that its digital assistant is at least as capable as Amazon and Google’s offerings in terms of key AI and machine learning.

Apple is in the fortunate position of being able to attract and pay for top Silicon Valley talent, and the hiring of Google’s top man will no doubt be seen as a small victory in itself in the ongoing battle of the digital personal assistants.

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