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The past few months have seen a surge in artificial intelligence (AI) chatbots like ChatGPT, followed by high-profile announcements from tech giants like Microsoft and Google on how they plan to integrate this kind of AI technology into their own products.
In the midst of all this enthusiasm, Apple has been relatively quiet, leading some to believe that generative AI technology isn’t a priority for the iPhone maker — and that it may even be lagging behind its competitors.
However, those who know how Apple rolls aren’t convinced that’s the case. Apple isn’t a company to make bold proclamations about what it’s working on; instead, it always waits until it has a tangible product to show us.
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In case you weren’t sure, though, Apple CEO Tim Cook dispelled the myth that Apple isn’t working on generative AI in an interview with Reuters today on the heels of the company’s quarterly earnings call.
Apple’s financial statements reveal that the company has spent a whopping $22.61 billion on research and development in this fiscal year alone. That’s $3.12 billion higher than it had spent by the same time last year. Cook suggests that a good chunk of that is being spent on generative AI research — and that’s not even a new initiative.
We’ve been doing research across a wide range of AI technologies, including generative AI, for years. We’re going to continue investing and innovating and responsibly advancing our products with these technologies to help enrich people’s lives. Obviously, we’re investing a lot, and it is showing up in the R&D spending that you’re looking at.Tim Cook
Apple also isn’t interested in being showy about its AI initiatives. While Apple is rumored to be testing an “Apple GPT” chatbot internally, it’s unlikely we’ll ever see this as a standalone product like ChatGPT.
Instead, Cook pointed to features like iOS 17’s Live Voicemail Transcription as one example of how AI will be the power behind new features in Apple products rather than something that would be a feature on its own.
Generative AI aside, the iPhone, iPad, and Mac already have a wealth of machine learning features baked into iOS and powered by the Neural Engine in Apple’s A-series and M-series chips. Seven years ago, Apple hit a home run when it added new features in iOS 10 that harnessed the power of Apple silicon to perform face and photo recognition directly on an iPhone. It was a huge win for privacy and the first time folks could access these features without relying on photographic analysis by cloud services like Google Photos.
Since then, Apple has made leaps and bounds in AI-powered areas such as computational photography, voicemail transcription, Visual Look Up, language translation, augmented reality, and so much more. There’s a reason Apple snatched up Google’s Head of AI, John Giannandrea, five years ago and quickly appointed him as the first Senior Vice President of Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence Strategy. Unlike other tech companies, Apple doesn’t hire senior executives to keep offices warm and fulfill a “vanity metric.” If Giannandrea is Apple’s SVP of AI, it’s because Apple is doing big things with AI.
Of course, there’s one obvious place where generative, ChatGPT-style AI could provide a considerable boost: Apple’s infamous voice assistant, Siri. While Apple squandered its head start — Siri came along at least four years before Alexa and Google Assistant — it’s been working to course-correct that over the past few years, and that’s almost certainly one of the many things Giannandrea has been tasked with.
At the end of the day, though, Apple is a product company. It doesn’t run a search engine like Microsoft’s Bing or Google’s Google, nor does it have cloud-based services like Gmail and Google Docs to contend with. However, as Cook told CNBC, artificial intelligence and machine learning aren’t products but rather “fundamental core technologies” that are “virtually embedded in every product that we build.”