Apple makes its AI pivot with Siri and iOS 10, plays to strengths, developers

Apple enters the artificial intelligence era, talks facial recognition, and touts a smarter Siri at every turn. The trick for Apple is to talk AI, but rely on interface and installed base.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

Apple played catch-up on the artificial intelligence front by dropping Siri into more venues and betting it can popularize the technology without explaining what's under the hood and relying on interface and installed base.

At WWDC 2016, Apple software chief Craig Federighi actually said "advanced artificial intelligence." Of course, Federighi didn't talk engineers, technology nuts or bolts and how Apple's photo app in iOS uses computer vision in the same way Google has for years.

Let's get real: Apple took a turn toward artificial intelligence, computer vision and all the stuff Google talks about incessantly at Google I/O. Apple's WWDC was a reactionary effort to catch up to Amazon and Google, make Siri smarter and stay in the conversation. Bottom line: Apple did what it had to. Apple doesn't have to create the technology because its role historically has been to do it better and perfect the execution.

Previously: Hey Siri! At Apple WWDC 2016, Tim Cook needs to make big data, AI pivot | Google's big bet: Machine learning, artificial intelligence will be its secret sauce, winning formula | Amazon's Alexa nets 1,000 third party skills

The AI twist for Apple is to pull all the data "into an intuitive user interface that make this so engaging," said Federighi. As for photos, Apple is "applying the same kind of tech with deep learning to object and scene recognition as well."

Rest assured, Apple is betting its scale and developers can help it stay in the big data and AI game. Apple opened up Siri to third party developers and said its APIs already connect with Slack, WhatsApp, WeChat, Uber, Lyft, Photo Search, MapMyRun., Runtastic, SquareCash and CarPlay. Siri will help you type better, respond well and help you with Maps, which will also be opened to developers.

Federighi also said Apple is relying on data that doesn't identify you -- with a technology called "differential privacy." "When it comes to performing advanced, deep learning, we're doing it on device. Keeping your personal data under your control," he said.


In many respects, Apple is taking a bit of IBM's playbook. IBM puts Watson in front of multiple businesses to drive home cognitive computing. Apple's Siri is similar now.

Siri will integrate with third-party calling services such as Cisco, Vonage and Skype. On the enterprise front, Apple's VOIP API will integrate the iPhone even more with corporations.

Apple's spin for all of the AI tech is that it will now use it everywhere. Apple isn't talking cloud. "Facial recognition is coming to the iPhone. It's all done locally on the device," said Federighi.

By giving more touch points for Siri, the digital assistant can learn more. Siri services more than 2 billion requests a week from customers.

Apple's AI playbook is in keeping with history. Google and Amazon can lead the tech charge. Apple simply has to be good enough.

Apple WWDC 2016: First look at iOS 10

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