Exploring Apple’s AI setback

Thu Jun 06 2024
Jim Andrews (515 articles)
Exploring Apple’s AI setback

Witnessing the demonstrations inside Apple earlier this decade, one couldn’t help but be captivated by the impressive capabilities showcased by a revamped Siri. It was a glimpse into the incredible potential of a powerful AI voice assistant.

The renowned assistant, one of the final endeavors of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs prior to his passing, underwent a complete transformation. The new Siri has impressed users with its enhanced speed, conversational abilities, and remarkable accuracy in understanding user commands. It can even run on an iPhone and does not require an internet connection. According to insiders, the project known as Project Blackbird envisioned a Siri that could harness the talents of third-party app developers.

However, another project emerged victorious in an internal contest just before the 10-year anniversary of Siri’s launch. Renowned as Siri X, the recent upgrade focused on transferring additional Siri software directly onto iPhones, enhancing the voice assistant’s speed and privacy without compromising its modesty. The Siri X enhancement was introduced in 2021.

Next week, Apple will be participating in the highly anticipated Worldwide Developers Conference, where they will be entering the competitive field of AI. This event is expected to have a significant impact on the future of technology. Apple is making efforts to keep pace with competitors like Microsoft, Alphabet’s Google, and other companies that have started incorporating generative AI into their main offerings.

According to insiders, Apple’s cautious and secretive approach, along with its meticulous attention to detail in device upgrades that seamlessly combine hardware and software, have posed challenges for its initial forays into the AI field. It currently faces the unique challenge of needing to embrace risks.

According to insiders, the company is preparing to unveil a range of exciting generative-AI enhancements for its software products, including Siri. The AI features offer support in composing messages, enhancing photos, and condensing texts.

Although Apple may not be at the forefront of AI innovation, the company is gearing up to introduce AI features that boast impressive capabilities while prioritizing user privacy. This focus on privacy is crucial in order to fully harness the power of AI assistants. According to insiders, Apple is anticipated to announce potential partnerships with prominent AI developers, following discussions with OpenAI, Google, and Cohere.

Apple has always strived for perfection in its product launches, which can be quite challenging when it comes to emerging AI models. Although OpenAI systems have impressed over 180 million users with their ability to generate writing, images, and video, they do have a tendency to make occasional errors, which are sometimes referred to as hallucinations. Apple has shown little patience for such problems.

“AI cannot achieve perfect accuracy, that is an undeniable truth,” stated Pedro Domingos, a distinguished professor of computer science and engineering at the University of Washington. Unfortunately, that is not compatible with Apple. Nothing is released until it reaches perfection.

According to a source, Apple has been considering the possibility of giving users the option to select a third-party AI provider to either replace or enhance Siri. The future of Siri’s development remains uncertain, particularly in terms of potential collaborations with third-party AI providers and whether Apple will pursue such a direction.

Bloomberg previously covered an OpenAI collaboration, while The Information reported on ongoing efforts to revamp Siri.

Google, Microsoft, and Samsung Electronics are swiftly incorporating generative AI into their devices and services. Despite Apple’s current position in the evolving tech industry, numerous investors and AI experts are confident that the company will successfully introduce generative AI to a wide audience.

“Apple has proven time and time again that they have the ability to accomplish whatever they put their minds to,” stated Vineet Khosla, a former engineering manager on the Siri team who currently serves as the chief technology officer at the Washington Post. The company has a strong emphasis on catering to the needs and preferences of consumers. Their AI is designed to operate with utmost sensitivity to privacy concerns.

Throughout its evolution, Apple has consistently enhanced Siri and seamlessly integrated smaller AI capabilities into its entire product lineup. The Vision Pro headset utilizes advanced AI technology to accurately track the movement of your eyes and hands.

When Siri made its debut in 2011, Apple took the lead in the race to establish the first AI assistant, leaving its rivals behind. Jobs, who played a key role in the acquisition in 2010 that resulted in Siri, motivated the team to preserve the assistant’s clever humor and quick wit. The bold launch showcased the company’s fearless approach to embracing new opportunities.

“Siri was the final innovation that Apple pioneered,” remarked Dag Kittlaus, co-founder of the Siri startup that Apple acquired, who departed from Apple shortly after the product’s introduction.

Apple made a strategic move to bolster its AI strategy by bringing on board John Giannandrea, a highly accomplished engineering executive from Google. In 2018, he was promoted to the position of senior vice president, reporting directly to Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook.

From the very beginning of team meetings, Giannandrea emphasized the importance of enhancing Siri. In addition to his responsibilities, he was given the important task of consolidating Apple’s various AI initiatives. According to insiders, he assembled his AI team by bringing in talent from Google and acquiring startups. However, it seems that his team faced challenges integrating with the existing Apple workforce.

The new AI group operated in a similar manner to certain divisions at Google, where deadlines were more flexibly established. Teams within Apple must adhere to strict deadlines in order to ensure that products are ready for the highly anticipated release events that take place every fall. Collaborative efforts between different teams at Apple occasionally faced challenges when it came to agreeing on deadlines, leading to some breakdowns in communication, according to sources familiar with the matter.

While the AI team at Apple was hard at work, other departments were also focused on developing their own independent AI capabilities. Former Apple employees revealed that the software group, led by Senior Vice President Craig Federighi, made significant investments in enhancing and expanding the artificial intelligence technology that powers its image and video recognition capabilities.

Former executives and engineers have highlighted the significant challenge faced by Giannandrea’s AI team due to the limited access to computing resources. According to insiders familiar with Apple’s internal infrastructure, the company has been acquiring fewer graphical-processing units, which are crucial for training AI models, compared to its competitors.

A significant portion of the AI team had to depend on external cloud services. Many of the former Google employees on Giannandrea’s team preferred using Google’s cloud to train their AI models, according to sources.

With the launch of ChatGPT in late 2022, a new era began. Federighi, the software chief, was completely won over during that Christmas break when he started experimenting with Copilot, an AI coding tool owned by Microsoft’s GitHub. According to those familiar with his experience, Copilot’s impressive capabilities, powered by OpenAI’s technology, left a lasting impression on him.

Following that pivotal moment, throughout Federighi’s software-engineering organization, employees were assigned the exciting challenge of finding innovative ways to integrate generative AI into products. They were provided with ample resources to pursue these projects, as shared by former executives and engineers. During internal meetings, Federighi expressed his newfound appreciation for generative AI technology and emphasized its integration into all aspects of Apple’s software.

Apple has intensified its efforts to develop its own internal generative AI. In February, the company decided to halt its long-standing endeavor to develop its own electric vehicle. A few employees were reassigned to these innovative AI projects.

Apple is set to unveil a range of exciting new features and updates this year, all powered by their cutting-edge internally developed generative AI models. However, Apple is also exploring potential external partnerships to further enhance their AI capabilities. According to insiders, Giannandrea and Federighi recently had a meeting with Sam Altman, the CEO of OpenAI.

With a renewed focus on AI technology, Kittlaus, the co-founder of Siri, expressed the significance of this year for Siri. The company aims to integrate intelligent AI capabilities into the iPhone, making it a pivotal year for the voice assistant. “Siri has been facing challenges for quite some time,” he remarked. “I can definitely envision a renaissance on the horizon.”

Jim Andrews

Jim Andrews

Jim Andrews is Desk Correspondent for Global Stock, Currencies, Commodities & Bonds Market . He has been reporting about Global Markets for last 5+ years. He is based in New York