Siri's new boss: What the pundits are saying

Apple has hired Google’s chief of search and artificial intelligence, John Giannandrea, a major coup in its bid to catch up to the artificial intelligence technology of its rivals. —Jack Nicas and Cade Metz, the New York Times

Excerpts from the reactions that caught my eye:

Neil Cybart, Above Avalon: Apple Poaches Google A.I. Leader. This news was met by a pretty cynical narrative involving Apple never taking A.I. and machine learning seriously until now. The byproduct of this ineptitude has been a dysfunctional Siri, which was put into the spotlight with the recent HomePod launch. While I don't agree with that assertion, it's the current narrative in many tech circles.

Gene Munster, Loup Ventures: What this means for Apple. It’s a win. Talent follows talent, and John Giannandrea will no doubt help to build Apple’s AI brand and enhance future recruiting efforts. His shared vision on privacy is good news for a company who claims to be the vanguard of user security. In the meantime, Google will maintain its strength in AI, given they are still an “AI first company” and have tremendous AI and deep learning horsepower with their Google Brain and DeepMind teams. Jeff Dean, the founder of Google Brain, has taken over as the head of their AI department in a “reshuffling” making AI a more central part of their business. Will Google employees follow in Giannandrea’s footsteps? There will probably be a few, but the competition is fierce, and this will not be the last major AI trade.

Ina Fried, Axios: Why it matters. AI is a key strategic area with Google, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft and others all looking to outflank their rivals.

Nick Stat and James Vincent, The VergeWith Giannandrea joining the fold,.. Apple may be able to recruit more top-level talent and improve its algorithms, a feat the company has long said it wants to achieve without violating its stance on privacy. Yet because neural networks — the backbone of deep learning techniques for developing self-improving software — require large amounts of data to be trained on, Apple is necessarily at a disadvantage because it only has access to publicly available sets. Facebook and Google, on the other hand, operate large-scale data collection operations with billions of users around the globe.

Patrick Moorhead: Moor Insights: One person alone rarely makes the only difference, but will likely pull people over from other companies. Historically, Apple very rarely does Apple change its direct reporting structure. Big deal from that angle.

Tripp Mickle, Wall Street Journal: Apple has been looking for a senior artificial-intelligence executive for nearly a year, a person familiar with the search said.

Benedict Evans, Andreessen Horowitz: Apple Hires Google’s A.I. Chief. Important. Probably more important: they persuaded him he’ll have interesting problems to work on, and that he’ll be able to get stuff done, which implies broader changes.

John Gruber, Daring Fireball If it works out, we’ll probably look back at this as one of the most significant Apple executive hires ever.

My take: Smart move. About time.


  1. Google’s spin (from The Verge): For Google, the loss of Giannandrea is not likely to have a big impact on its AI efforts. Taking Giannandrea’s place is Google veteran Jeff Dean, widely considered to be one of the most talented and trusted figures in the coding world. An anonymous source inside Google told The Verge that the general feeling in the company was that Dean has a “stronger rapport” with the community, employees, and management.

    April 4, 2018
  2. Fred Stein said:
    AI is the UI of the future.

    April 4, 2018
    • Richard Wanderman said:
      Wouldn’t you say: Speech is the UI of the future. AI is the engine that will drive the speech UI. I don’t think AI is a user interface, it’s the engine running behind the UI.

      April 4, 2018
      • Fred Stein said:
        I used the broader term, AI, because it includes harvesting other data for context. So, yes “Speech plus context: would be more accurate. If I’m driving in the evening, and name a restaurant, Siri should provide driving instructions. Other times it should default to restaurant reviews. If I say Eureka Mountain View, Siri should (but does not at this time) guess that it’s the burger joint in Mountain View and not the town 180 miles away. This can be done without any privacy concerns.

        We might recall Philip’s issue with HomePod’s Siri. Siri could not get the context that Philip’s taste in music was different from his wife’s

        Siri does a fine job of telling me when I need to get going, considering local traffic. Pretty basic.

        April 5, 2018
  3. Gregg Thurman said:
    I don’t think the size of farming data base is an issue. Off the top of my head I can’t think of the firm’s name, but last year Apple acquired an AI firm that learns, more efficiently (than others using large databases), without need for mega large samples. From a privacy point of view, where the data samples are limited to those of the individual user, this would be very important.

    This firm used its technology in speech recognition. Hmmmm, speech as a UI.

    SIRI’s ability to retrieve data is limited by the number of databases Apple subscribes to (less than half the number Google subscribes to).

    Additionally, even with all the angst about SIRI’s abilities, sales have not been materially impacted. I think this is so because of Google’s blind obsession with collecting user data and selling ads. That obsession has led to Google making key technologies available on iOS through the App Store, ergo, consumers that want an iPhone but prefer Google Maps etc., are able to get the best of both worlds. This has allowed Apple to focus (resource allocation/budgets) on its vision until those resources are freed up to improve SIRI. Once that happens users will naturally migrate to SIRI because it will be the default search application (personal assistant, maps, etc).

    April 4, 2018

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