The Artificial Intelligence Race: Apple must open up




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It is a known fact that all the big names in the digital industry are doing research in Artificial Intelligence. To clearify: Artificial intelligence (AI) is intelligence that is exhibited by machines. What is sought are computers that acts like a flexible rational agent that perceives its environment and takes actions that maximize its chance of success.
While the first applications of AI are already showing up (e.g. deep machine learning, the independent robots of google), behind the scenes Facebook, Google, Elon Musk and other big companies are trying to keep up with each other and become the leader in AI.

During this race it is very important to be an open company and to share (at least a substantial part) of your research/knowledge with other companies, according to the AI head of Facebook, Yann LeCun. ‘When you do research in secret, you fall behind’ is what LeCun said to earlier this year. To give strength to this idea Facebook joined the Elon Musk-backed startup OpenAI, an open source platform on which researchers within and outside companies are enabled to freely share all their (or at least the most as possible) research on AI. Facebook finds themselves joined by Google, Microsoft and as mentioned above, Elon Musk. Which lets the platform add great value for the AI departments of each of these mentioned companies.

You might ask yourself now where the name of Apple remains in this blogpost. Of course, Apple is also doing research into on AI, since it will probably play a big role within their future business models. However, Apple has some difficulties by keeping up because of their Steve-Jobsian secrecy policy. Which is the principle of Apple that the researchers that work for them are not allowed to publish or share their research with the outside world. Although this policy might helped or still helps Apple to remain ahead of their competitors, it clearly drops them behind in the case of AI.
It looks like Apple recognized this weakness too and took action earlier this year by hiring Russ Salakhutdinov as the one that oversees Apple’s AI group. And let it be so that the Carnegie Mellon professor is allowed to still spend some of his time at the university. On top of this, he announced last week that he is going to start publishing journal articles and spend time on talking with academics.
This change in policy, might open up the way for Apple to get back at the level of their competitors on AI. However, there could be another problem for Apple, which is about the contribution to platforms like OpenAI. To produce proper research and contribution to the platform, a large amount of digital data is needed and this might be difficult for Apple. The company has currently very strict privacy policies that could block the research that has to done by Apple. So, as it seems Apple has one more problem to solve, to get back into the race.

Artificial Intelligence Just Broke Steve Jobs’ Wall of Secrecy

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2 thoughts on “The Artificial Intelligence Race: Apple must open up”

  1. Dear Rick,
    Very interesting blog post! Apple has traditionally stayed its own course, with variable succes, but I’m not sure that staying out of the openAI game will hurt their privacy constraints. Publicing results is not the same as publicing client information. It therefor doesn’t look like a privacy concern issue, but rather a strategic choice to not (yet at least) join the openAI network. I’m curious to see what Apple might bring to the table in the futher and if they rethink this strategic choice.

  2. Great article! It is true that if you look at Facebook’s plans and current efforts (they are labeled FAIR – Facebook Artificial Intelligence Research) they publish a lot of whitepapers and believe in open source philosophy:

    I believe that this way it is easiest to attract the brightest minds and developers from all over the globe to work with you together on your problems. Maybe a little open source spirit would fit into Apple’s secretive culture well in 2017.

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