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Apple hires a Carnegie Mellon professor to improve its AI

Russ Salakhutdinov could boost artificial intelligence in Siri, Photos and beyond.
Jon Fingas, @jonfingas
October 17, 2016
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Reuters/Stephen Lam

Apple isn't letting Samsung's acquisition of Viv go unanswered. The Cupertino crew has hired Russ Salakhutdinov, a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University, as a director of artificial intelligence research. Interestingly, he isn't giving up his school work -- he may well be publishing research at the same time as he's upgrading your iPhone or Mac. It's not certain what he'll be working on, although Recode observes that his recent studies have involved understanding the context behind questions. We've asked Apple if it can comment.

The hire could make a big difference for Siri, which has been criticized for evolving relatively little compared to services like Google Assistant. The AI helper may develop a better understanding of what you're asking, and could be better at handling less-than-explicit or follow-up questions. However, Apple's use of AI isn't limited just to voice commands. Remember how iOS 10 uses machine learning for object and face recognition in its Photos app? You could see Salakhutdinov's influence across many products, giving weight to Apple's claims that it considers AI a key part of its future.

Carnegie Mellon might not be entirely happy. Uber spent a while poaching from the school's robotics lab, and now the university has to worry about Apple luring top talent. While that may not be such a bad thing if it leads to more practical applications for AI, it may limit academic studies in the near future.

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