Apple’s Japanese R&D center will be dedicated to AI

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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
Tim Cook is eying Japan for Apple's AI research hub.
Photo: Scott Schaut/Mansfield Memorial Museum

Apple’s new R&D base in Yokohama, Japan, will focus on artificial intelligence and other related technologies, Tim Cook has revealed.

The new facility is set to be completed by December, well ahead of the projected date of March 2017. In an interview with Nikkei Asian Review, Cook called it a center for “deep engineering,” and said it will be “very different” from the R&D centers Apple plans to build in China.

“We want [to use] AI to increase your battery life,” Cook said, with examples being to “help you remember where you parked your car” or recommend new music tracks on Apple Music. To help bring about Apple’s AI ambitions, Cook said Apple will work in cooperation with Japanese companies.

Apple’s AI ambitions are no secret. In a recent article by Steven Levy, he lists some of the additional use-cases Apple has in mind when it comes to machine learning — ranging from detecting fraud on the Apple online store, to helping identity the most useful feedback from beta testers, to more visible applications like letting users compile snapshots and videos into mini-movies on iOS 10.

With that said, the company’s choice of Japan as an AI hotspot is interesting. Japanese companies and universities have traditionally focused on pioneering robotics research, as opposed to software-based AI systems. Much of this hardware work has been based on industry and “cultural” applications, as opposed to military technologies. Japan has also been focused heavily on molecular neuroscience research.

Where this leaves Apple isn’t known — because the company doesn’t exactly share its plans too often with outsiders — but it could certainly be interesting to fold some of this work into making tools like Siri (which started as a U.S. military project) act in a more human manner.

Tim Cook arrived in Japan last week for his first visit as Apple CEO. As part of the trip, he met with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and visited Nintendo’s headquarters to play its upcoming Mario Run game, as demoed during last month’s iPhone 7 keynote event. He has also been talking up the arrival of Apple Pay in the country.

Source: Nikkei Asian Review