Apple Refocuses On Artificial Intelligence, Having Dropped Its Foray Into Automobiles

Apple, the world’s tech giant has been trying to shift its focus to Artificial Intelligence (AI) for a while now — from hiring new talent to shelving their long-rumoured foray in automobiles, the company seems to be going all-in for AI.

One of the first major things that Apple did was to practically kill its much-talked-about Project Titan, scaling back on the long-rumored and totally not-top-secret plan of bringing self-driving car for the masses.

While the company did instead start working on a self-driving system — rather than the whole car, a system that can be sold to carmakers for use in their own vehicles — a significant number of people were taken off of the project and reassigned to other parts of the company’s business.

In addition to that, the remaining Titan team was asked to produce something feasible by the end of 2017 (to justify their own existence, I guess), dropping quite a bundle of pressure on them — to deliver, or be busted out.

Rumours of the ‘Apple Car’ have been in the wind for a couple years now, but the truth of the matter is that there didn’t seem to be a tangible outcome that would be out anytime soon.
 Behind-the-scenes rumours of the project claim there was mostly chaos and not much direction (which might be stemming from the lack of progress/achievement in the necessary research and prototype), and various reports quoted unnamed sources stating that the project was an “incredible failure of leadership”.

It was only when industry stalwart Bob Mansfield came over to lead the team that the project began to take better shape. It was he who reportedly proposed and internally sold the idea of not building a Tesla-competitor, instead concentrate on a creating technology platform that could be sold to third parties.

One the other hand, Apple’s accomplishments in the AI world have been far more successful.

A fairly-everyday manifestation of their AI work is personified by their personal assistant Siri, that comes installed on all Apple devices, and has become almost a part of many users’ everyday lives.

When it came to the world, back in 2011, Siri was groundbreaking and ahead of its time, but over the years it has not been able to stay upto speed in certain areas. One of the debatable reasons could have been of Apple not putting in enough research, manpower or even being able to bring on the best of the talent on board.

But then the time came and Apple heard criticism of Siri harking that it (Siri) has fallen way behind other automated assistants like Amazon’s Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana and Google’s Assistant.

Apple geared up to change that fast. Not a brand that is known to shrivel away from spending on the best of the talent, Apple recently hired Russ Salakhutdinov, a Carnegie Mellon University professor, to head up a team working on artificial intelligence. He is a hugely respected expert on Deep Learning and is exploring smart ways for computers to learn about the world.
 His research work over the years has been funded by Google, Microsoft, and Samsung.

One of Apple’s other significant steps towards shoring up it’s AI initiative was highlighted when it acquired Seattle-based machine-learning company Turi for USD 200 million.

Turi specializes in machine-learning and is likely to boost its product’s AI capabilities. It is unclear for now what Apple is doing with Turi, but the Turi’s resources and expertise could help boost Siri and it’s intelligence significantly.

In addition to these, Apple just also joined Partnership on AI, an artificial intelligence research group that includes Amazon, Google, Facebook, and Microsoft.
 Formed in September, last year, the group was intended to be a means of supporting research, establishing ethical guidelines and promoting both transparency and privacy when it comes to AI studies.

With these milestones, Apple, a company that is known for its closed doors culture and secretive plans, seems to be showing signs of opening up in the name of improving research efforts around machine learning.

What is quite clear at the moment is that when Apple looks at the automobiles market, it has two questions to answer: what role does it exactly see itself playing? And how much auto industry know-how does it need to succeed?

The field is quite new for Apple. What then, can be useful to look at is how Apple has entered new fields before.

With the iPod (music) and the iPhone (cellular), it hired a bunch of people with extensive subject knowledge, yes, but it also relied heavily and quite smartly (one must say), on partnerships.

Should Apple consider having a car-making partner then? Or like Mansfield seems to be thinking, will establishing a technology platform that can be sold to third parties, be the path to follow?

I, for one, can’t say. I know there’s focus on AI from every part of the tech world, and I’m sure that technology will make that climb to that stratosphere soon. But the one thing I do know, is that whenever Apple enters a market place, it brings it’s absolute best game (or it doesn’t enter it at all), and that forces every other organism in that space to up it’s own game too, or be drowned out.

And Apple does things ethically, with you and me in the center of their thought process. With IoT and connected devices in the mix, and AI and Deep Learning thrown in too, our personal information and our lives’ stories should not be put on the auctioning table. Apple’s own approach (and inputs to the Partnership on AI) will help ensure that, to the maximum degree possible.

So, it’s a good thing then. Apple, AI on!


Originally published at Chip-Monks.