John Giannandrea will head up Apple’s machine learning and AI strategy.

Apple has hired Google’s head of search and artificial intelligence, in a major win for the former company’s efforts to step up its AI efforts.

As initially reported by The New York Times, Google’s John Giannandrea will be joining Apple one day after he stepped down from his previous role. The machine learning expert had been at Google since 2010, and had been a core part of the search engine’s development over the past decade.

In his new role, Giannandrea will run Apple’s machine learning and AI strategy and will report directly to company CEO Tim Cook. The hire is being flagged as a major victory for Apple, which has long been viewed as lagging behind its rivals Google, Facebook and Amazon when it comes to AI.

Siri is likely to be Giannandrea’s focus. Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant have made strides over the past few years in voice recognition and information requests, and while Siri helped define the idea of an AI-assistant, it has fallen behind in terms of capability.

Part of this is due to Apple’s relative dearth of AI development, especially when held up against the hundreds of researchers advancing the field for Google and Facebook. It was only in 2016 that Apple allowed its employees to publish research in AI – something that’s standard for AI researchers at Google and Facebook. Apple’s emphasis on privacy and security of user data also means it has had to work on training AI algorithms without large-scale data collection.

Apple has said it wants to be able to train the neural networks behind its AI efforts without compromising the company’s ethical stance on user privacy, and it will be Giannandrea’s job to make that happen. Given the rise of home speakers and the public’s increasing comfort with speaking to a disembodied AI voice, Apple will want to catch up with its rivals to improve Siri’s abilities.

Replacing Giannandrea as head of AI at Google is Jeff Dean, one of the company’s earliest employees and a veteran in AI research. Dean co-founded Google Brain, which has been behind many of the fundamental technologies that power everything from image recognition to Google Translate.



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