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Apple CEO Tim Cook. (Photo: Apple)
Apple CEO Tim Cook. (Photo: Apple)

Apple’s acquisition of Seattle-based machine learning startup Turi, for around $200 million, surprised the tech world this week — but maybe it shouldn’t have been a surprise, given recent comments by Apple CEO Tim Cook.

The deal, first reported by GeekWire yesterday, boosts the company’s capabilities in artificial intelligence and machine learning at a time when Apple and other companies are trying to make their products and services more intelligent and personalized. Cook spoke about the topic during the company’s most recent earnings conference call. Here’s an excerpt.

These experiences become more powerful and intuitive as we continue our long history of enriching our products through advanced artificial intelligence. We have focused our AI efforts on the features that best enhance the customer experience. For example, machine learning enables Siri to understand words as well as the intent behind them. That means Siri does a better job understanding and even predicting what you want, then delivering the right responses to requests. To make Siri an even smarter assistant, we’re opening the service to developers, and this fall Siri will be available across our entire product line.

We’re also using machine learning in many other ways across our products and services, including recommending songs, apps, and news. Machine learning is improving facial and image recognition in photos, predicting word choice while typing in messages and mail, and providing context awareness in maps for better directions. Deep learning within our products even enables them to recognize usage patterns and improve their own battery life. And most importantly, we deliver these intelligent services while protecting users’ privacy. Most of the AI processing takes place on the device rather than being sent to the cloud. And starting this fall, we’ll be using sophisticated technology called differential privacy, enhancing our ability to deliver the kinds of services we dream of and customers love without compromising on the individual privacy our customers have come to expect from us.

Turi, a University of Washington spin-off formerly known as Dato and GraphLab, makes tools for developers and data scientists to build machine learning into their apps and research projects. Apple isn’t saying how it plans to use the technology.

A 2015 Wall Street Journal interview with the company’s CEO, Carlos Guestrin, explains that the tools are meant to make machine learning available to companies that wouldn’t otherwise be able to build the technology themselves.

As noted in the story, Zillow has used Turi for its Zestimate home value prediction tool, Pandora to improve song recommendations, and Adobe to help designers make connections and find jobs. Guestrin told the WSJ that personalized medicine was another promising area for the technology.

Sources tell GeekWire that Turi will remain in the Seattle region, where Apple is expected to continue hiring scientists and engineers to build out its expertise in data science, artificial intelligence and machine learning.

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