Apple Hires Another Machine Learning Heavyweight from Google to Build World-Class AI Team

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Apple has poached another top engineer from Google as it continues to grow its artificial intelligence and machine learning divisions, with Google’s Dr. Ian Goodfellow having left his role as a “Senior Staff Research Scientist” with Google to join Apple as a “Director of Machine Learning” in the company’s Special Projects Group, according to CNBC.

Dr. Goodfellow is a rising star in the machine learning industry, having authored and co-authored over 100 research papers, he is also considered the father of the generative adversarial network (GAN) — technology that has been used to generate “deepfake” fake media content and other unusual and creative AI-generated audio and video results. Goodfellow joined Google as a software engineering intern only six years ago while he was finishing his Ph.D. as the University of Montreal. Working with the Street Smart team as an intern, Goodfellow built neural networks that could read address numbers from images captured with Google’s Street View cameras, allowing locations of millions of homes to be updated in Google Maps.

He was later brought on as a research scientist on TensorFlow and the Google Brain team, where he worked on more technical and theoretical solutions before leaving Google for a year to work with OpenAI. Goodfellow returned to Google in early 2017 to work on unspecified projects, and was promoted to Senior Research Scientist last fall, only five months before his move to Apple. According to a tax filing noted by CNBC, Goodfellow was paid more than $800,000 during his tenure at OpenAI.

After dipping is toes in the water of advanced AI and machine learning in 2016 with Photos in iOS 10 and the Neural Engine in its A11 Bionic chip in 2017, Apple double-down on the technology last year when it landed Google’s AI Chief John Giannandrea in a major coup. Giannandrea rapidly rose to the upper echelons of Apple’s executive team, appointed Senior Vice-President of Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence Strategy only eight months after he joined the company.

Giannandrea’s hiring was part of a restructuring that has seen Apple not only strengthen its overall focus on machine learning and artificial intelligence — something Apple CEO Tim Cook has described as fundamentally important to Apple’s future — but also created a new place for previously-flailing projects like Siri to get back on track. Prior to Giannandrea’s appointment, Siri lived under SVP Eddy Cue’s already-heavy “Internet Software and Services” portfolio, where it became neglected by Apple’s senior leadership, lacking vision and falling into a cycle of iterative improvements while losing its lead to competitors like Alexa.

There are rumours that aspects of many of Apple’s other semi-secretive projects, like the Apple Car, have also been at least partially moved into Giannandrea’s division. Artificial intelligence and machine learning is a highly specialized scientific area, and as Apple continues to bring on heavyweights like Giannandrea and Goodfellow, it’s clear that Apple realizes that there’s a need for a single, strong division with the company that has a razor-like focus on developing deep learning neural networks, rather than trying to scatter machine learning engineers across multiple project teams.

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