Apple, the most the secretive member of the technology industry, is starting to break down its walls. Russ Salakhutdinov, the company’s director of artificial intelligence research, says Apple will start letting its AI researchers publish papers and engage with the greater AI community, according to a report from Business Insider. Salakhutdinov reportedly made the announcement earlier today at the NIPS conference in Barcelona, Spain.
The goal, according to Salakhutdinov, is to help attract and retain top talent in the industry. Unlike some areas in tech Apple can afford to keep behind closed doors, AI thrives on open collaboration. Many of the top AI researchers routinely attend industry conferences, publish papers, and contribute to open-source projects with mission statements geared toward the safe and careful development of machine intelligence. Apple, on the other hand, has kept its employees’ findings locked down in Cupertino.
According to Yann LeCun, an industry veteran who heads up Facebook’s AI division, publishing is paramount for researchers. “You can’t tell people 'come work for us but you can’t tell people what you’re doing' because you basically ruin their career,” he told Business Insider. “That’s a big element.” For instance, Facebook recently gave away the technologies it uses to perform object recognition in photos. The company is also part a coalition — along with Microsoft, Google, and others — dedicated to communicating with the public about AI and working in partnership to establish best practices for AI development.
Apple is not a member of that coalition. But it may soon join, if its efforts to be more collaborative and open continue on this path. The iPhone maker is already at a disadvantage compared to its competitors. It does not have direct access to the massive troves of data that a social network or search engine can tap into. It would seem that Apple too lacks some of the AI talent that Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and Facebook have attracted over the years. As a result, the Siri voice assistant has fallen behind in the smart home, and Apple’s efforts to develop self-driving car software have suffered from setbacks and direction changes.