Apple has made a major move towards dramatically improving its artificial intelligence efforts.
The New York Times reported on Tuesday that it has hired Google's former search and artificial intelligence chief John Giannandrea. In his new role at Apple, Giannandrea will lead the company's "machine learning and AI strategy." He'll also report directly to Apple CEO Tim Cook, illustrating how important the new role is in Cupertino.
The move could send shockwaves through the tech industry. Apple's Siri has been lagging far behind its competitors in the artificial intelligence market. And as time has gone on, Google and Amazon have both boosted their own services in Google Assistant and Alexa. Apple, hoping to play a larger role in artificial intelligence, has been playing catch up.
"Top AI talent is ludicrously expensive right now, so Apple getting Giannandrea makes two statements, said Avi Greengart, research director for consumer platforms and devices at GlobalData. "Apple recognizes that it needs to pay whatever it takes to improve its AI efforts across all its products and services; and that Apple’s privacy-centric approach to AI is interesting enough to lure top talent."
Apple has been looking to expand Siri's reach. The service has been available in iPhones, iPads, and Macs for years, but is now available in the company's HomePod smart speaker. With HomePod, Apple's Siri is in direct competition with Google and Amazon AI services running on competing speakers, Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa.
One of the biggest complaints about the HomePod this year has been its Siri integration — and its general lack of smarts compared to the Alexa baked into an Amazon Echo.
By hiring Giannandrea, Siri should get a major IQ boost over time, which will allow it to be a more useful companion. Siri is generally pretty good at the basics, such as looking up the weather, setting reminders and dictating text messages, but it has fallen behind Google Assistant and Alexa in terms of general knowledge, shopping skills and controlling smart home devices.
Giannandrea has a long history in the artificial intelligence market. Before joining Google in 2010, he was chief technology officer at Metaweb, a startup that was building technology that could act as the "database of the world's knowledge." The feature was ultimately folded into Google Search as a way to deliver answers to questions users might input into the search box.
Upon joining Google, Giannandrea took on a leadership role in artificial intelligence, where he helped to build Google Assistant. He also played a leadership role in integrating Google Assistant and other AI features into Google Search, Gmail, and other services.
Apple didn't say exactly what Giannandrea will be working on at the company. In an e-mail to employees obtained by The New York Times on Tuesday (Apr. 4), Apple CEO Tim Cook said that the company will "make computers even smarter and more personal." But Giannandrea also "shares our commitment to privacy."