Apple elevates AI chief John Giannandrea to a senior executive team

Apple Inc. today rewarded its recent hire John Giannandrea with a promotion to its top executive team, handing him a new role as senior vice president of machine learning and artificial intelligence strategy.

Giannandrea is a machine learning expert who joined Apple in April, just days after he left previous employer Google LLC, where he established his reputation as its head of search and AI.

Upon joining Apple, the company promptly reorganized its AI teams into a single business unit under his leadership. Giannandrea is chiefly responsible for the development of Apple’s Siri virtual assistant, as well as the firm’s Core ML software that enables developers to add AI into applications for its iPhone and iPad devices.

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Giannandrea had served at Google for almost eight years, spearheading the creation of its Knowledge Graph, which serves as the main source of verified knowledge for products such as Google Search and Google Assistant. Prior to joining Google, Giannandrea worked at a company called Metaweb Technologies Inc., where he built a knowledge database called Freebase. Google acquired Metaweb in 2010, and integrated Freebase into its search engine.

At the time of Giannandrea’s appointment by Apple, analysts said the move was designed to boost the company’s AI strategy, which is some way behind that of its Silicon Valley rivals in areas such as computer vision and natural language processing. Yet these subsets of AI are believed to be critical for Apple because they’re necessary to power new capabilities in Siri and other applications that rely on voice and object classification.

Apple’s lack of AI expertise puts the company at a big disadvantage in new markets such as smart home technology. It also means that key Apple products such as Maps and Photos are considered to be inferior to similar offerings from Google, which leverages its more advanced AI tech to power better features.

For these reasons it’s good to see that Apple is giving AI and machine learning more exposure at the executive level, analyst Holger Mueller of Constellation Research Inc. told in a report. However, he said Giannandrea will have his work cut out because he needs to deliver more than just CoreML and help make AI pervasive across Apple’s entire product portfolio.

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“That’s a Herculean task given Apple ‘s autonomous product development culture,” Mueller said. “Maybe this is the promotion that’s needed and will help, but we will only see if there is a positive impact from this move in a few quarters’ time.”

Apple itself hasn’t said much about Giannandrea’s progress since he was hired, but today’s promotion suggests the company is delighted with his efforts thus far.

“John hit the ground which is also running at one of the largest phone company Apple and we are thrilled to have him as part of our top most executive team,” Tim Cook revealed “some of the latest technology which includes the Machine learning and AI are important to Apple’s future as they are constantly changing the way and how people merely interact with technology, and already helping our customers in getting the better lives. We’re fortunate to have John, as one of a top leader in the AI industry, with the driving our efforts in this critical area.”

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