With competitors Amazon and Alphabet making significant strides in the machine learning and AI sector, Apple has headhunted one of Google's key players to ensure it keeps pace.

By Joe McDonough

Posted on April 5, 2018

Apple has poached Google’s top artificial intelligence executive, John Giannandrea, in a bid to speedily enhance its AI capability, namely with its voice assistant Siri.

While Siri was the first to be launched in 2011, it is now being outperformed by both Amazon’s Alexa and Alphabet’s Google Assistant.

The recruitment of Giannandrea — who will report directly to CEO Tim Cook as chief of machine learning and AI strategy — is the latest in a string of hires that Apple has conducted to claw back some of the ground it has lost to its competitors.

In 2016, it brought two prominent AI researchers on board — Carlos Guestrin from the University of Washington and Russ Salakhutdinov from Carnegie Mellon University.

It then made another strategic move, when operating systems chief Craig Federighi took over the responsibility for Siri from content head Eddy Cue.

Apple’s expansion in machine learning was revealed by Guestrin a year later, when he told GeekWire they were actively pursuing “the best people” in the field.

“We’re trying to find the best people who are excited about AI and machine learning — excited about research and thinking long term but also bringing those ideas into products that impact and delight our customers,” Apple’s director of machine learning said.

“The bar is high, but we’re going to be hiring as quickly as we can find people that meet our high bar, which is exciting.”

The Cupertino-based tech giant has certainly cherry-picked a good one in Giannandrea.

The 53-year-old Scot oversaw just about every aspect of Google’s AI ambitions as head of machine learning research, after being CTO at Metaweb, which was acquired by Google.

So impressive was his leadership during the integration of machine learning into Google’s main search algorithm RankBrain, that he was again promoted in 2016 to lead Google search.

He has his work cut out for him at Apple though if a New York Times review earlier this year is any indication.

“Siri is sorely lacking in capabilities compared with Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Assistant,” wrote Brian Chen.