Apple's Culture of Secrecy Slowing its Artificial Intelligence Development

Apple's strict adherence to an environment of secrecy and privacy in regards to its software and hardware development has been suggested as a major blow to the company's potential for growth in the field of artificial intelligence. In a new article by Bloomberg, Apple was noted as a non-attendee at the Neural Information Processing Systems conference, an annual confluence of companies including Google and Microsoft where researches get together to discuss the progress and development of AI technologies.

siri iphone
In years past, Apple has attended the conference, but its emissaries were known to keep "a low profile" during the proceedings. In the midst of a mass sharing and celebration of discoveries and findings in the world of AI, many remain unsure of the Cupertino company's continued success in such departments if it remains attached to such strict secrecy rules. “They’re completely out of the loop," said Richard Zemel, a professor in the computer science department at the University of Toronto.

The biggest threat posed to Apple due to this level of secrecy, according to Trevor Darrell, managing director of a machine-learning research center at the University of California at Berkeley, is the barrier to entry it creates for graduate students fresh out of college. The stagnant environment and closed-off atmosphere inhibits the company's employees from interacting with the rest of the scientific community, an issue that most potential hires may not be entirely comfortable with.

“There’s no way they can just observe and not be part of the community and take advantage of what is going on,” says Yoshua Bengio, a professor of computer science at the University of Montreal. “I believe if they don’t change their attitude, they will stay behind.”

“The really strong people don’t want to go into a closed environment where it’s all secret,” Bengio says. “The differentiating factors are, ‘Who are you going to be working with?’ ‘Am I going to stay a part of the scientific community?’ ‘How much freedom will I have?’”

Earlier in the month, Apple acquired two artificial intelligence-related start-ups: VocalIQ and Perceptio. VocalIQ's natural language API hints at a more naturalistic version of Siri in the future, and even possible integration into the rumored Apple car project. Perceptio suggests the possibility of a more expansive and robust AI system for Apple, without the compromise of the company's in-depth privacy policies that pull Siri back from services like Google Now and Microsoft's Cortana.

All the same, Bloomberg's story suggests that despite Apple's enthusiasm to innovate in the artificial intelligence sector, the company could continue to lag behind in certain departments -- Apple Maps, for example -- due to its stances on secrecy and privacy.

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Top Rated Comments

Kaibelf Avatar
113 months ago
Apple learned enough by sharing with Google back when Eric Schmidt was on the board. I'm glad they choose privacy as a focus instead of a free-for-all.
Score: 28 Votes (Like | Disagree)
spiderman0616 Avatar
113 months ago
Apple already got majorly burned by Google from having Eric Schmidt on their board. So Bloomberg is just going to have to forgive them for wanting to keep most things under wraps and rely on the brilliant AI and voice recognition companies they've been acquiring to get things up to snuff.
Score: 15 Votes (Like | Disagree)
wigby Avatar
113 months ago
There's as much blind speculation going on in this article as there is blind speculation when it comes to their supply chain or analyst predictions. If you're not in the Apple circle, you just don't know how much they know about this stuff. And you certainly don't have to attend a few conferences to know anything more. Sounds like these experts are just curious and a little miffed that Apple doesn't care enough about them to share and show up.

Apple could very well be ahead of everyone else in AI but we all just don't know.
Score: 14 Votes (Like | Disagree)
TampaIllini Avatar
113 months ago
I have a PhD in Cognitive Science (from Carnegie Mellon, 1996). I've gone back and forth from industry jobs and academic jobs. When you are at the post-graduate level, being able to publish and share your ideas is a major thing. If I was looking at jobs, and I was told at Apple that I would not be able to publish, that would put a big damper on my enthusiasm for working there. I realize I probably won't be there for my entire career, and so you have to think about what comes next. If you have a 4-year gap (i.e., your tenure at Apple) on your resume where you cannot point to papers you wrote and the conferences you attended, your ability to transition from Apple to your next gig will be severely hampered. The top people coming out of the top AI places may not consider Apple for that reason.
Score: 13 Votes (Like | Disagree)
dk001 Avatar
113 months ago
Sounds like the problem is people who are judging you for being less than you are, simply because you haven't published something...
Interviewer .... "John, I see you worked at Apple on cognitive AI from 2013-2017. What can you tell me about your work?"
John, "I can't talk about it - Apple NDA and secrecy agreements"
Interviewer .. "John, can you tell me about any papers, articles, or conferences from that period?"
John, "I can't talk about it - Apple NDA and secrecy agreements"
Interviewer .... "John, so what can you tell me about that period?"
John, "I like to hike when I have the time, eat sushi, and watch Dragnet reruns."

Gonna be a short interview ......
Score: 11 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Kaibelf Avatar
113 months ago
I asked Siri "How long does milk last?". Siri responded "128 minutes". Intrigued, I looked at the screen to see that Siri was referencing a movie called "milk", which I've never even heard of.
You need to get out more. It was a very high profile film and won quite a number of awards, and brought big recognition for Sean Penn and basically launched James Franco on a new career path as a more serious actor.
Score: 8 Votes (Like | Disagree)