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New addition to Apple’s executive team shows how serious the company is about AI

Apple AI chief

The conventional wisdom among the tech cognoscenti has been that Apple lags behind rivals like Google and Amazon when it comes to its efforts in artificial intelligence — that an Apple tool like Siri, for example, is easily outmatched by Amazon and Google’s comparable digital assistants. And that Apple is also self-hobbled, in a way, given that the company has been so resolute in professing to collect as little of its users’ data as possible — data that you kind of have to collect in order to train an AI system to learn how to be useful.

Apple, nevertheless, doesn’t intend to cede ground and or let itself be relegated to second-tier status when it comes to AI and machine learning. For evidence of that, look no farther than a new addition to its executive team that the iPhone maker has just announced.

Apple poached John Giannandrea from Google eight months ago, where he’d been in charge of the company’s machine intelligence, research and search teams. It was a big get when Apple announced his hire earlier this year, and then not long after his hire Apple seemed to up the ante.

Giannandrea was tasked with leading a new unit at Apple that combined the company’s AI and machine learning efforts. It was the perfect fit for him, given that before his hire by Apple in April he’d spent eight years at Google, where he helped make AI more of a centerpiece in products like Gmail and Google Assistant.

Now, he occupies an even more important and higher-profile role at Apple. Today, the company acknowledged that Giannandrea has joined the executive team, reporting directly to CEO Tim Cook. That puts him alongside many of Apple’s most highest-profile executives, like Angela Ahrendts, Eddy Cue, Craig Federighi and Jony Ive, to name a few.

In a statement about this news, Cook said that “John hit the ground running at Apple and we are thrilled to have him as part of our executive team. Machine learning and AI are important to Apple’s future as they are fundamentally changing the way people interact with technology, and already helping our customers live better lives. We’re fortunate to have John, a leader in the AI industry, driving our efforts in this critical area.”

Giannandrea’s official title at Apple is Senior Vice President of Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence Strategy. Apple says his team is also helping to enhance the developer experience with a variety of tools that make it easier to integrate machine learning into apps.

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Andy Meek is a reporter based in Memphis who has covered media, entertainment, and culture for over 20 years. His work has appeared in outlets including The Guardian, Forbes, and The Financial Times, and he’s written for BGR since 2015. Andy's coverage includes technology and entertainment, and he has a particular interest in all things streaming. Over the years, he’s interviewed legendary figures in entertainment and tech that range from Stan Lee to John McAfee, Peter Thiel, and Reed Hastings.