Why isn’t Apple investing in machine learning?

Jack Rae, Google DeepMind Research Engineer

This is my personal opinion and it doesn’t represent Google.

People seem to be pushing back on this question, so I’m going to side with the OP here. From my pre-Google experience as a grad student at CMU and later as a Data Scientist at Quora I met a lot of people in and around the field of Machine Learning and no one was talking about Apple. They are not considered a big investor in Machine Learning. They don’t employ a large pool of ML researchers to my knowledge and I don’t see them at conferences or hear about their systems.

Why might this be? Well their core business has historically not depended on ML and it is not critical to their success in today’s market, frankly. Apple make money by selling high quality hardware and software, it’s a very traditional business model that works well for them. Furthermore, the company is highly design oriented.

Part of Apple’s success is due to the obsession to detail over user experience and product aesthetics that stems right back to the company’s founding. This leads to different types of employees being sought after and employed. Machine learning engineers and researchers by-and-large don’t care about any of those things. As such, there are orthogonal interests between the current management at Apple and the talent pool of ML engineers / researchers.

Machine Learning also conflicts with Apple’s strong stance on user data. Tim Cook has strong feelings regarding the use of user data as he voiced in his Open letter concerning privacy late last year:

Our business model is very straightforward: We sell great products. We don’t build a profile based on your email content or web browsing habits to sell to advertisers. We don’t “monetize” the information you store on your iPhone or in iCloud. And we don’t read your email or your messages to get information to market to you. Our software and services are designed to make our devices better. Plain and simple.

User data is a necessary fuel to help machines learn and Tim Cook appears to be making a bet that people really don’t want their actions or data analyzed by clusters of machines.

To conclude, Apple’s lack of investment in ML appears to be due to it being historically irrelevant to the core business, the company’s strong focus in design and the company’s distaste for processing user data. When they do need a sophisticated component for a particular task (e.g. voice-based mobile control, fingerprint identification etc.) they seem content to gain the intellectual property / technology via smart acquisitions.

Source: Why isn’t Apple investing in machine learning?

Via: Google Alert for ML

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