Apple has hired John Giannandrea, Google’s former head of search and artificial intelligence, as its new head of machine learning and AI strategy.
Before joining Google as SVP of engineering, Giannandrea was CTO of Metaweb Technologies, which Google acquired in 2010. In 2016, Google merged its search and AI divisions under Giannandrea’s leadership.
He now reports directly to Apple CEO Tim Cook.
Internet of Business says
The appointment is hugely significant for the world’s most valuable company.
Apple has struggled to make headway in artificial intelligence, machine learning, and computer vision – despite being in the vanguard of digital assistants with Siri, which predated both Alexa and Google’s Assistant by several years.
The reason for Apple’s struggles in the AI space since then is that its walled-garden, consumer-focused approach has deprived it of AI’s most valuable resource: data.
Both Facebook and Google are mass public data platforms, while Microsoft, IBM, and other large-enterprise vendors have the deep partnerships with industry that Apple lacks in comparison.
This was the driver for Apple’s recent deal with IBM to bring Watson functionality onboard and shift Apple’s focus towards the enterprise. Partnering with Amazon, Google, Facebook, or Microsoft would have been impossible without undermining Apple’s brand values; that left IBM has the best – and smartest – fit.
However, the challenge for Apple is that machine learning and computer vision algorithms need massive data sets for training. Outside of the limited data gathered from its loyal customers, Apple has to rely on publicly available sets. By comparison, Facebook can gather data from its one billion active users, while companies like Alibaba and Baidu in China have access to the same numbers: the entire Chinese population.
However, something that Apple has that Google – and now certainly Facebook – lack is broad-spectrum trust.
Scandals such as the Cambridge Analytica ‘breach’, the infiltration of fake accounts, and news that Facebook has been logging Android call data have wounded the social network below the waterline. Meanwhile, Google remains the most popular search platform in the West and Android is easily the most popular mobile operating system, but it is not a brand that people trust.
As this 2016 report reveals, asking Google users if they trust the company “is like asking cows if they trust McDonald’s”. The subtext is that human beings aren’t customers of either Facebook or Google; they – or rather their data – are the products that those platforms sell to their advertising partners.
In the future, AI will increasingly be about public trust, and this is where Apple has a major advantage.
The company is certainly aware of this. In an email to employees yesterday, CEO Cook said, “Our technology must be infused with the values we all hold dear. John shares our commitment to privacy and our thoughtful approach as we make computers even smarter and more personal.”
But despite being the world’s most valuable company, with a walled garden of linked hardware, software, apps, and retail, Apple has simply replicated the problems that it faced in the mid-90s when Microsoft owned the desktop, leaving Apple with a market share of about three percent. Android’s mobile market share is now north of 86 percent, with iOS making up much of the rest – Microsoft is nowhere in mobile.
Put simply, Apple’s world-leading market capitalisation has largely been built on the back of the iPhone, but iOS market share is now dwindling fast.
This has come about for exactly the same reason that Windows dominated the desktop in the client/server 90s; Microsoft licensed its operating system to hardware manufacturers and partners, just as Google/Alphabet has done with Android.
Apple’s revenues still dwarf those of Google, Microsoft, and Facebook – it is the only US technology giant to be in the world’s top 10 companies by revenue – but Apple’s core problem is that it sits in a walled garden where it will shrivel without new ideas and fresh thinking.
With Giannandrea onboard, Apple will at least be able to attract other big names in the AI industry – and, of course, have direct access to the man who helped put AI at the centre of Google’s platform.