In February, Apple hired then Google SVP of Engineering John Giannandrea to oversee its machine learning and artificial intelligence efforts. In his eight years at Google, Giannandrea was responsible for machine learning improvements to various Google products, including search, Gmail and the Google Assistant.
At the time, we wrote that it wasn’t clear what Giannandrea’s involvement with Siri would be, but the virtual assistant definitely could definitely use his help. Indeed, earlier this week, Apple merged Siri and its machine learning groups under Giannandrea’s leadership. He’s now “Chief of Machine Learning and AI Strategy.”
His bio on the Apple site now reads:
John Giannandrea is Apple’s Chief of Machine Learning and AI Strategy, reporting to CEO Tim Cook. John joined Apple in 2018 and oversees the strategy for Artificial Intelligence and machine learning across the company and development of Core ML and Siri technologies.
The conventional wisdom is that Apple is far behind rivals, such as Google, Microsoft and Amazon, in machine learning and AI research and development. A report from The Information in January also discussed internal problems that plagued the development of Siri and potentially explain why it has fallen behind Google Assistant and Alexa.
Once the market leader and a differentiator for the iPhone, Siri is now commonly seen as a laggard, which is not totally accurate. While Google Assistant certainly offers a more complete experience than Siri (in part because of Google’s search index), my personal experience using all of these assistants doesn’t indicate a massive gap between them for common use cases. (Something like Google’s Duplex is another discussion.)
Giannandrea is clearly the right man to help reinvigorate Siri. He brings both deep speech recognition and search experience, having been a co-founder of voice recognition pioneer Tellme and semantic knowledge platform Metaweb.
There’s a lot of hype surrounding AI, but it’s clear that it’s a core success variable going forward.
Google CEO Sundar Pichai said in 2017, “We’re moving from a mobile-first world to an AI-first world,” reflecting the company’s emphasis on machine learning and AI. Its ongoing investments were also just showcased in a set of announcements of new automated ad products.