Apple shies from the spotlight with staff-only AI summit

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Apple seems happy to stay out of the spotlight when it comes to the “AI race” going by its latest summit.

Microsoft, Google, Baidu, and others have all raced to make very public AI announcements over the past month. Apple held its own AI event earlier this month but it was a staff-only affair.

Apple’s low-key AI event was notable as being the first to be held in-person at the Steve Jobs Theatre since the pandemic began. Other than that, it wasn’t particularly newsworthy—which is somewhat newsworthy in itself.

Most AI solutions rely on the cloud for processing. Google is moving an increasing amount to on-device but Apple, for better or worse, has made a big deal about its on-device AI strategy.

One of the ways that Apple markets itself as differing from rivals is its privacy-first approach. The firm collects minimal data and processes it on-device. That approach has worked great for Apple but the company may begin to struggle as it requires more data and processing power—something we may already be seeing.

Siri is widely perceived to be the third most capable virtual assistant behind Google and Alexa. Apple currently has no answer to the ChatGPT and Bard chatbots unveiled by Microsoft and Google respectively.

One of the primary uses for machine learning over the years has been web search. The threat that a ChatGPT-integrated Bing poses to Google reportedly set off the alarm bells over at Mountain View and led to the frantic (and “botched”) announcement of Bard.

Apple has reportedly been working on its own search engine but the company’s ethos against data collection could be holding it back from launching a product that can go toe-to-toe against Google and Bing.

At its AI event this month, Apple appeared set on rallying employees and convincing them it isn’t falling behind. Apple’s AI chief told attendees that “machine learning is moving faster than ever” and that Apple has talent that is “truly at the forefront.”

That doesn’t sound like a company that is particularly confident.

“While that may be Apple’s belief, I haven’t heard of anything — for consumers — that is a game changer coming out of the summit,” wrote Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman in the latest edition of his Power On newsletter.

“For those wondering, I don’t believe Apple previewed a ChatGPT/New Bing competitor or anything of the sort.”

Apple isn’t known to rush products to market and it’s not surprising that we’re not getting any major announcements ahead of WWDC. However, this staff-only event – and Gurman’s report – certainly gives the impression that Apple knows it’s not as well-positioned as its rivals when it comes to AI.

For now, Apple looks quite happy to sit out of the spotlight when it comes to AI. This year, all the attention will be firmly on its mixed-reality headset. However, questions will certainly be raised in the coming years about whether Apple is an AI leader unless it can silence the critics.

(Photo by Oscar Keys on Unsplash)

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