Apple nabs Google's top AI exec to make Siri smarter

Pauline Obrien
April 5, 2018

Apple has received some criticism over the years for not implementing new features and for sticking with the same design for its flagship smartphones.

Two years ago, Google appointed its head of artificial intelligence to lead Search in a move that reflected the future of the company. However, he is much needed at Apple, which is playing catch-up to Google, Microsoft, and arguably, Amazon, in AI. Though Apple tapped into the early market for digital assistants with Siri, it has since been outpaced by rivals due to less data access, resources and research talent.

Google's Senior VP of Engineering John Giannandrea (L) and TechCrunch moderator Frederic Lardinois speak onstage during TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2017 at Pier 48 on September 19, 2017 in San Francisco, California.

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Apple said that Giannandrea will run its "machine learning and AI strategy", and become one of 16 executives who report directly to Apple's chief executive, Tim Cook. And as time has gone on, Google and Amazon have both boosted their own services in Google Assistant and Alexa. John Giannandrea is now officially part of Apple's team and his main objective is to help Apple improve Siri.

Giannandrea's contribution to Google includes the development of the Ask Jeeves-style functionality that now enables Google search to provide more precise responses to user questions.

He joined Google in 2010 when it purchased Metaweb, a start-up where he served as chief technology officer. He also wrote, "John shares our commitment to privacy and our thoughtful approach as we make computers even smarter and more personal", according to the report in NYT.

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On the other hand, Jeff Dean who co-founded Google Brain will be taking over Giannandrea's spot. Apple's emphasis on privacy and security of user data also means it has had to work on training AI algorithms without large-scale data collection.

Lately, leading Silicon Valley companies have seen major shake-ups at higher level management, in the AI space.

Many people were surprised when news broke that Giannandrea had left his post as Google's AI chief, but the decision makes sense now that we know he was intending to join Apple.

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