Apple acquires AI startup with a focus on privacy

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Silk Labs
Silk Labs' privacy policy reads like it was written by Tim Cook.
Photo: Silk Labs

Apple has reportedly acquired an artificial intelligence startup that specializes in on-device machine learning software.

Silk Labs’ technology processes data without sending it to the cloud, which is a perfect fit for Apple’s privacy-conscious approach to AI. It’s not clear how much Cupertino paid for the company when the deal was struck earlier this year.

Apple CEO Tim Cook has frequently hit out at companies like Google, which send lots of user data to the cloud to enable machine learning services. But like Apple itself, Silk Labs has a focus on privacy and does all of its data processing on local hardware.

Silk Labs technology a perfect fit for Apple

Unlike Apple, Silk Labs isn’t a familiar name. Co-founded by former Mozilla CTO Andreas Gal, the company has only ever announced one product — an intelligent camera and smart hub for your home dubbed Sense — that never made it to market.

Sense, despite its sleek design and a wealth of smart features, was cancelled in June 2016, four months after it landed on Kickstarter, after attracting only $150,000 in funding from just over 770 backers.

After those backers were refunded, Silk confirmed it would focus on AI software for other companies instead. Apple was clearly interested, and according to a source for The Information, it acquired Silk earlier this year for an unknown sum.

“The deal was likely a small one for Apple, as Silk Labs only had about a dozen employees and raised approximately $4 million in funding, reads the report.

Silk offers ‘state-of-the-art artificial intelligence’

Silk’s website, which remains live today, details some of the services its “state-of-the-art artificial intelligence” provides — such as home security, access control, building surveillance, and parking lot monitoring.

Silk’s image and audio recognition technology allows for people detection, facial recognition, and more. And because all the magic happens locally, without sending data to the cloud, it promises intelligence even when you’re offline, and privacy protection.

“Privacy and security is built into our company’s DNA,” reads the Silk website. “With every line of code we write and in every design decision we make, Silk takes great measures to ensure that user data on the Silk Intelligence Platform is fully protected at all times.”