Google's Artificial Intelligence Guy Just Jumped to Apple
While comparisons vary, Google Assistant tends to outperform Apple's intelligent digital assistant Siri in a range of areas, which likely explains why Apple has just hired Google's John Giannandrea to run its machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) efforts.
Employed by Google since 2010, Giannandrea (pictured above) began working for the search giant after the company's acquisition of Metaweb Technologies, where he was CTO. He led Google's machine learning development program and two years ago also became senior vice president of search. As of today, Giannandrea's LinkedIn profile still shows him as SVP of Engineering at Google, but that should be changing anytime now to reflect his defection to Apple.
Giannandrea's move represents "a coup in [Apple's] bid to catch up to the smarts of its rivals' products," New York Times tech reporter Jack Nicas said yesterday on Twitter. In his new position, Giannandrea will be among 16 Apple executives who report directly to CEO Tim Cook.
Long-time Google veteran Jeff Dean, who co-founded Google Brain, is expected to take over as the new head of AI, while vice president of core search Ben Gomes will now lead Google's search efforts.
'Making Computers Smarter and More Personal'
The first public indications that something was changing in the Google vs. Apple balance came on Monday, when The Information, an online tech news site, reported that Giannandrea would be stepping down from his positions at Google in a "leadership shuffle." Yesterday, a report in The New York Times about Giannandrea's new role at Apple made clear the reason for that shuffle.
"John shares our commitment to privacy and our thoughtful approach as we make computers even smarter and more personal," Cook told Apple staffers in an email yesterday.
The Times noted that Giannandrea's hiring is "a victory for Apple, which many Silicon Valley executives and analysts view as lagging its peers in artificial intelligence, an increasingly crucial technology for companies that enable computers to handle more complex tasks, like understanding voice commands or identifying people in images."
A growing portion of the $1.3 trillion businesses are expected to spend on digital transformation technologies this year will focus on "innovation accelerators," such as AI, cognitive computing, and robotics, according to a December forecast from analyst firm IDC. Voice-enabled assistants, such as Amazon's Alexa and Assistant on Google Home devices, are also seeing rapid adoption among consumers.
Race To Take AI, Virtual Assistant Lead
One of the greatest challenges in developing machine learning algorithms is avoiding hidden biases in assumptions, Giannandrea said in an October interview with MIT Technology Review.
"It's important that we be transparent about the training data that we are using, and are looking for hidden biases in it, otherwise we are building biased systems," Giannandrea said. "If someone is trying to sell you a black box system for medical decision support, and you don't know how it works or what data was used to train it, then I wouldn't trust it."
Such concerns have taken on even more urgency in recent weeks, as multiple news reports have revealed the vast amounts of personal data held about users by Facebook, Google, and other technology companies. At the same time, however, use of voice-enabled home smart speakers and other smart devices has been growing rapidly.
In a head-to-head comparison of the top three virtual assistants in October, the technology site Tom's Guide ranked Google Assistant in the top spot, with Alexa in second place, and Siri in third. However, the scoring differences between the three were small, with different assistants excelling depending upon the task (for example, general knowledge vs. online shopping or directions vs. voice recognition).
A pilot study by researchers in New Zealand last month found that Google Assistant was "significantly superior" to Apple's Siri in providing users with the best advice on how to quit smoking.
Image credit: Google; iStock/Artist's concept.