How AI is secretly transforming everything Apple does

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Elektro, a robot built by Westinghouse in 1937, was a star at the World's Fair in 1939-40. Photo: Courtesy of Scott Schaut/Mansfield Memorial Museum
Apple is investing heavily in machine learning.
Photo: Scott Schaut/Mansfield Memorial Museum

When it comes to the incredibly hot field of AI, Apple has been racing to catch up with Google and Facebook. A new article reveals exactly when Apple’s interest in this area began paying off: July 30, 2014, a.k.a. the date Siri switched over to deep learning.

A type of machine learning built around brain-like “neural networks,” the switch drastically improved on Siri’s accuracy. However, as is typical for ultra-secretive Apple, the company didn’t boast about — or even publicize — its success.

The article notes that Apple now has “a lot” of people working on machine learning, although these are evenly spread throughout the company, as opposed to representing one distinct department. The result is that the technology is now being used to transform a variety of Apple products.

Apple uses deep learning to detect fraud on the Apple store, to extend battery life between charges on all your devices, and to help it identify the most useful feedback from thousands of reports from its beta testers. Machine learning helps Apple choose news stories for you. It determines whether Apple Watch users are exercising or simply perambulating. It recognizes faces and locations in your photos. It figures out whether you would be better off leaving a weak Wi-Fi signal and switching to the cell network. It even knows what good filmmaking is, enabling Apple to quickly compile your snapshots and videos into a mini-movie at a touch of a button. Apple’s competitors do many similar things, but, says its executives, none of those AI powers can pull those things off while protecting privacy as closely as Apple does.

I won’t spoil the rest of the article, since it’s well worth reading (Steven Levy is, for my money, the most entertaining pop science tech writer working today). However, it’s interesting because it shows the way that Apple has been secretly catching up with Silicon Valley’s other tech giants in terms of AI — leading to one expert describing Apple’s approach as being akin to the “NSA of AI.”

It also describes some of the decidedly un-NSA conflicts Apple has had trying to balance its belief in user privacy with its AI efforts. Make sure you check it out!

Source: Backchannel