AI is incompatible with the Apple Tim Cook has built

This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.
AI is incompatible with the Apple Tim Cook has built
The idea that artificial intelligence is the next big thing in computing is pretty well established at this point. All major software companies around have said as much and we've seen the visions of big guns like Google, Microsoft and Facebook for the future of AI. Apple, however, has been a little more hesitant about making big proclamations about AI until now. 

In an interview with the Washington Post, Cook made it clear that he understands the value of AI and also made it clear that he sees Apple as being a major player in terms of AI. When I saw the interview, I had to read it a few times to make sure I had read it correctly, because the idea of Apple as a major player in AI is completely incompatible with the privacy-focused version of Apple that Tim Cook has built. 

At its most basic level, AI is a way to glean novel and interesting information from the huge amounts of data that we all generate constantly. Given this, it makes perfect sense that a company like Google -- whose stated goal is to organize the world's data, and a company built on gathering as much data about you as possible -- would make a big push into AI. Apple has consistently placed itself as the antithesis of that idea. 

Privacy vs AI


Apple's reputation is built on privacy. Cook has boasted time and again about how Apple either doesn't gather your data or doesn't gather it without multiple notifications and opt-in messages. Cook's Apple was even poised and ready to take on the FBI in order to protect user privacy. This idea of privacy cannot exist in a world of AI. 

Apple is obviously going to try. It showed off Differential Privacy at WWDC as a way to collect data on users while still respecting privacy and this will work to a certain extent but in very limited ways. Differential Privacy will allow Apple to use some AI to make general keyboard predictions and autocorrections better and maybe even general predictions in terms of navigation for Apple Maps. But, that's the real issue -- anonymized data can only lead to general predictions. 

The best promises of AI and the most exciting things we've seen for AI come from hyper-individual recommendations and learning. At Google I/O, the promise of Allo was to be able to instantly suggest relevant information or allow for searches based on what you had typed. The only way this would be possible is by allowing Google servers access to read that data (although Google will instantly delete the chat records). If you turn on the privacy focused end-to-end encrypted Incognito mode of Allo, those special features disappear. 

At its best, AI can take data including your preferences, location, interests, habits, and history, mix in those same findings from others and offer you something that is either unexpected and interesting or helpful and timely, while being automated and seamless. At its best, AI churns through the huge amounts of data we create -- intentionally and unintentionally -- to find patterns that make every process easier, faster, and filled with added value. 

Tim Cook may want Apple to be a part of that revolution, but Apple will be handicapped in the AI race as long as the company stands by its identity as the anti-Google that holds up user privacy by not gathering all of that data. Cook can certainly pivot and take Apple down the path of data gathering and AI, but that will be a hard sell to the hundreds of millions who have bought iPhones under the promise that their data was private even from the eyes of Apple. 

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14 Comments

1. shahrooz

Posts: 792; Member since: Sep 17, 2013

Well written article, you made some good points.

7. Well-Manicured-Man

Posts: 707; Member since: Jun 16, 2015

I challenge this view. Artificial intelligence is about data interpretation and data presentation to the user but it doesn't mean that AI needs to know everything about you and it does not mean that Apple needs to have access to this data neither. Google wants to have access to this data because they want to make money out of you this way. Firstly, a good artificial intelligence delivers exactly what you ask her to do. For example showing certain information in a well structured way from the internet to the user. Secondly, of course this AI can gather data about you but it is not necessary that Apple has to know this data. What would be the value add if Apple knew this data? Why would this make the AI better? Privacy and AI do not exclude each other.

12. shahrooz

Posts: 792; Member since: Sep 17, 2013

" it doesn't mean that AI needs to know everything about you and it does not mean that Apple needs to have access to this data neither" that's why it won't be as good as other AIs. the more it knows, the better it works. "AI can gather data about you but it is not necessary that Apple has to know this data." google claims the same but apple mocks it, is it gonna be okay when they do this? Dude I'm restating the article again, did you even read it?

2. Finalflash

Posts: 4063; Member since: Jul 23, 2013

I honestly don't know what Cook is smoking there. They're going to be absolutely worthless in AI. Under Tim Cook, there is no uniform direction for Apple or its various products. All he cares about is money and margins, which under him have been amazing, but so far the products have been meh and the sales and goodwill from Jobs' time are pretty much sustaining Apple and their growth. Once again, he claims that AI is their focus, but until Google showed their efforts at Deep Learning at IO (which was an amazing/scary demo), they weren't even talking about AI at a high level. So it seems to be more a "me too" reaction like MS last decade rather than their own inspiration (which is Apple as of late). They tried to buy their way into unique hardware advantages like sapphire and failed miserably. They're going to try that again with AI and probably have the same results. They just got around to opening up Siri to become useful, until now it was and still is sub-par. They have a "focus" on privacy but want to be huge players in AI, which is pretty much half assing it. They will apparently deliver something with the iPhone 7 that we "need" and cannot live without, but it isn't hardware because this year's iPhone is turning out to be the worst release yet. They're trying to flog the iPad "Pro" (and its 10 000 variants), with a keyboard, that makes it more bulky than a Macbook as a solution for the replacement of that Macbook. Haven't updated their laptops in years so they can push their most idiotic fans into buying the higher margin iPad "Pro" most likely. Haven't touched their Mac Pro for years but apparently they're focused on the Pro market. What is Apple under Tim Cook other than a headless chicken/cash milking machine? Once their cow (iPhone) dries up and their iFans wisen up (no where to go but up), will they be able to sustain their BS?

3. kiko007

Posts: 7520; Member since: Feb 17, 2016

Techie would be proud :D.

5. Finalflash

Posts: 4063; Member since: Jul 23, 2013

Please, I was here before him....I think.

6. TechieXP1969

Posts: 14967; Member since: Sep 25, 2013

Proud of what. I'm not familiar with Google IO that he spoke of. But I had plan to research why Tim Cook talked about AI, when PA first posted it. I won't comment on Apples hardware because I share some of his sentiments. I don't know ow what Apple is doing. First Cook says the next iPhone is going ro have thibgs you never thought you could be without, which I assets are software improvements, b3cause so far the leaked hardware has not shown pro.ise, other than the dual camera. Then Apple was a TV, and they want to be in cars, then the iPad Pro is suppose to be able to reach a laptop, yet they claim the Surface was tweeible at being a tablet and a laptop, while the iPad is the one actually terrible at it. Yet they raised the price. If Verizon didn't sell me the Pro model for the price of the Air 2, I wouldn't even have gotten it. It is a waste of money. I should have followed by first intention which was to get a Surface Book. IVE is doing nothing with design. I don't know how you can improve AI with to little.of data. Sorry it isn't going ro work. Apple does need an alternative to the iPad and iPhone because those are going ro drop every year. By 2020 Apple will.probably be selling less than 100M iPhones a year at this rate. They need to make some shear over to provide another fad product.

9. RoboticEngi

Posts: 1251; Member since: Dec 03, 2014

So when the sheep hasn't got anything to say, he just trashtalks someone else.......

10. kiko007

Posts: 7520; Member since: Feb 17, 2016

So edgy............

4. talon95

Posts: 1002; Member since: Jul 31, 2012

"This idea of privacy cannot exist in a world of AI." Are you sure? While I'm not an Apple walled garden fan, I was a fan of their FBI privacy stance. Normally I would agree with your article but I feel like it is lacking some basic framework for the argument. In your mind AI exists in the cloud and data sent to the cloud in any fashion is unsafe. But who says AI can't be on your device? I would welcome a more private approach to AI that is local. I would also argue that when you do your own search for whatever it is you need, that information is also being transmitted in a similar fashion as with AI to the internet to return you a result. In some cases having a massive cloud based AI that communicates with thousands of anonymous clients over a secure connection may serve to further protect individual users as long as the AI is essentially a VPN with intelligence. Design it to only work once the device sending the data has sent a key and destroy the key after processing the request. I think there are ways to do this securely and I would hope Apple and Google could both find better ways to implement and improve AI.

14. roscuthiii

Posts: 2383; Member since: Jul 18, 2010

The "I" in AI stands for "intelligence"... a learning computer. If you destroy the data after every use, there is nothing learned. You don't have AI - All you've achieved is a basic tokenized Google search. I suppose having all the learning done locally would be an option... someday. But, to my knowledge, no personal computer comes evenclose to that capability yet. You'd need a supercomputer, which resemble server farms, or some kind of sci-fi quantum computer.

8. tedkord

Posts: 17452; Member since: Jun 17, 2009

Always good to see Mr. Heller here. Michael, I hope we're going to see you more regularly here.

13. mi7chy

Posts: 53; Member since: Apr 18, 2016

Cook needs to stop using the privacy excuse for crappy AI (Siri).

15. johnh3

Posts: 147; Member since: Aug 23, 2012

Good article, in this Google are way ahead Apple. Siri should have come longer since it been around so long.

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