Apple Hires Google’s Former AI Boss

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

Boost for Siri as Apple poaches the former head of Google’s artificial intelligence efforts John Giannandrea

Apple has hired Google’s chief of search and artificial intelligence, John Giannandrea.

Just one day after Giannandrea announced he was stepping down from his role as head of search and AI at Google, it now turns out he is jumping ship to rival Apple.

Giannandrea’s hiring is being widely viewed as a significant win for the iPad maker and demonstrates its intention to take on the likes of current AI leaders such as Google, Amazon and Facebook.

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AI leader

News that Apple has poached Google’s AI boss was first reported by the New York Times, which described the hire as a major coup for Apple.

It is reported that Giannandrea will run Apple’s “machine learning and AI strategy,” and become one of 16 executives who report directly to Apple’s chief executive, Tim Cook.

“Our technology must be infused with the values we all hold dear,” Cook reportedly said in an email to staff members obtained by The New York Times. “John shares our commitment to privacy and our thoughtful approach as we make computers even smarter and more personal.”

Giannandrea, 53, originally hails from Scotland and whilst at Google, he oversaw the integration of AI capabilities into a range of Google’s products, including internet search, Gmail and its own digital assistant, Google Assistant.

Giannandrea had joined Google in July 2010 when it purchased Metaweb, where he worked as chief technology officer.

Metaweb was best known for its Freebase open-source database that catalogued 12 million movies, books, TV shows, celebrities, locations and companies, among other data sets.

After that acquisition, Google infused this “database of the world’s knowledge” into its search engine to deliver direct answers to users’ queries.

It should be noted that engineers with AI expertise are highly sought after in Silicon Valley, and Apple has made a number of high profile hirings of late in the AI field. This includes Carnegie Mellon professor Russ Salakhutdinov.

Late arrival

And Apple has also been quietly building up its AI capabilities. Last year it acquired data mining company Lattice.io in a deal reportedly worth about $200 million (£155m).

Despite this, Apple is widely perceived to have been lagging behind rivals such as Google, Facebook, and even Amazon. Indeed, many feel that Siri for example is some way behind the likes of Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa, or even at one stage Microsoft’s Cortana.

Apple’s late arrival on the AI bandwagon is evidenced by its tardy decision to join the ‘Partnership on Artificial Intelligence to Benefit People and Society’, or ‘Partnership on AI’ for short in January 2017.

This non-profit group had been established by founding members including Amazon, Facebook, Google (DeepMind), IBM and Microsoft back in September 2016, to explore the ethics and applications of AI technology.

Google for its part is viewed as having a natural advantage in AI, because of the vast amount of data it has acquired via its search services, as well as its Android phones. Machine learning systems typically require huge data sets on which to train and improve.

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