Turi and Apple were the perfect match.
That’s one tidbit from a new piece published by Backchannel editor Steven Levy that explores Apple’s ambitions for machine learning and artificial intelligence technology, particularly with its virtual assistant Siri.
Earlier this month, GeekWire first reported Apple’s $200 million acquisition of Seattle-based startup Turi, a University of Washington spin-off that helps developers and data scientists build machine learning into their apps and research projects. Its products are designed to help large and small organizations make better sense of data — use cases include recommendation engines, fraud detection, predicting customer churn, sentiment analysis, and customer segmentation.
It’s not clear what Apple plans to do with Turi’s technology. But Eddy Cue, the longtime Apple executive and current senior vice president for internet software and services, told Backchannel that Turi — which plans to remain in the Seattle region — and Apple “matched very well.”
From Levy’s piece:
When Apple buys an AI company, it’s not to say, “here’s a big raw bunch of machine learning researchers, let’s build a stable of them,” says Federighi. “We’re looking at people who have that talent but are really focused on delivering great experiences.”
The most recent purchase was Turi, a Seattle company that Apple snatched for a reported $200 million. It has built an ML toolkit that’s been compared to Google’s TensorFlow, and the purchase fueled speculation that Apple would use it for similar purposes both internally and for developers. Apple’s executives wouldn’t confirm or deny. “There are certain things they had that matched very well with Apple from a technology view, and from a people point of view,” says Cue. In a year or two, we may figure out what happened, as we did when Siri began showing some of the predictive powers of Cue (no relation to Eddy!), a small startup Apple snatched up in 2013.
No matter where the talent comes from, Apple’s AI infrastructure allows it to develop products and features that would not be possible by earlier means. It’s altering the company’s product road map. “Here at Apple there is no end to the list of really cool ideas,” says Schiller. “Machine learning is enabling us to say yes to some things that in past years we would have said no to. It’s becoming embedded in the process of deciding the products we’re going to do next.”
Levy also interviewed Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering, who said that there are “a lot” of employees working on machine learning at Apple.
The Turi deal, which marked Apple’s second Seattle-related acquisition in the past two years, perhaps should not come as a huge surprise given Apple’s clear commitment to machine learning and AI.
Apple and other companies like Microsoft and Google are trying to make their products and services more intelligent and personalized. Apple CEO Cook spoke about the topic during the company’s most recent earnings conference call, noting that “we have focused our AI efforts on the features that best enhance the customer experience.”
“We’re also using machine learning in many other ways across our products and services, including recommending songs, apps, and news,” Cook added. “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.”
You can read Levy’s piece in full here.