Apple ramps up artificial intelligence hiring

September 08, 2015 08:39
Machine learning helps devices infer from experience what users are likely to want next. Photo:

Apple is boosting its stable of artificial intelligence experts in a bid to challenge Google in an area the internet search giant has long dominated -- smartphone features that give users what they want before they ask.

As part of its push, the company is trying to hire at least 86 more employees with expertise in the branch of AI known as machine learning, Reuters reported, citing a recent analysis of Apple job postings.

The company has also stepped up its recruitment of staff from PhD programs, joining Google, Amazon, Facebook and others in a fierce contest, leading academics say.

But some experts say the iPhone maker's strict stance on privacy is likely to undermine its ability to compete in the rapidly progressing field.

Machine learning, which helps devices infer from experience what users are likely to want next, relies on crunching vast troves of data to provide unprompted services, such as the scores for a favorite sports team or reminders of when to leave for an appointment based on traffic.

The larger the universe of users providing data about their habits, the better predictions can be about what an individual might want.

But Apple analyzes its users' behavior under self-imposed constraints to better protect their data from outsiders.

That means Apple largely relies on analyzing the data on each user’s iPhone rather than sending it to the cloud, where it can be studied alongside information from millions of others.

"They want to make a phone that responds to you very quickly without knowledge of the rest of the world," said Joseph Gonzalez, co-founder of Dato, a machine learning startup. "It's harder to do that."

The Cupertino-based tech titan’s strategy will come into clearer focus on Sept. 9, when it is expected to reveal its new iPhones and latest mobile operating system, iOS 9.

Apple has promised the release will include a variety of intelligent reminders, which analysts expect will rival the offerings from Google's Android.

Apple helped pioneer mobile intelligence — its Siri introduced the concept of a digital assistant to consumers in 2011.

But the company has since lost ground to Google and Microsoft, whose digital assistants have become more adept at learning about users and helping them with their daily routines.

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