Apple reportedly paid $ 200 million to acquire Seattle-based artificial intelligence company Xnor.ai, which specializes in peripheral-based AI.
This purchase is one of many for Apple, which is well versed in tech startups, but it also gives us an idea of how the company thinks about future devices.
Xnor.ai’s work on ultra-efficient, low-power AI that doesn’t require powerful processing or cloud connectivity (instead, the processing is done locally on the device) fits neatly into several areas that Apple is currently working on.
As usual, Apple does not comment on why it is acquiring certain companies and how they fit into its future roadmap. We can only guess how the work of Xnor.ai will fit into the master plan.
Interesting performance improvements through handling tasks such as natural language processing (Siri) or face recognition. For example, speeding up – by a few milliseconds – the decisions that the unmanned computer makes has obvious advantages. But what caught my attention were the implications for the privacy of AI on the device.
While Siri lags behind Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant in particular, with this acquisition, Apple may be pursuing an entirely different goal: to give users control over highly personal data.
Activating the Assistant service requires a huge amount of information also means the transmission of that information. Take a look at the app search and web search tracking settings on your Android phone, you will see that Google essentially tracks and stores almost everything you do on your phone, Nest product, or Assistant-enabled device. The trade-off, of course, is hyper-personal recommendations and next-generation technologies like Duplex.
The data you transfer makes the Assistant look good. In fact, many Google products are unlikely to function as smart features if you disable the web and app activity tracking setting, turning things like Google Home into a simple Bluetooth speaker.
This level of intimacy with a faceless company may not appeal to some, and Apple is likely to try to capitalize on it. From rivals Facebook and Google’s efforts to collect data, to artificial intelligence on devices already in use on iPhones, and repeatedly countering requests to weaken encryption on their devices specifically for law enforcement, Apple has long made its position on data privacy clear.
Some of them may well be public, which is good for outsiders, especially given that Apple uses Google technology and the money it gets for it, but Apple is clearly taking a different path than its competitors.
In one corner, we have Google, which is opening up new horizons by creating artificial intelligence that can book restaurant tables on your behalf, call and talk like a real person to a specified restaurant, or large-scale AI-powered Facebook investment equipment such as Portal. In return, they need your data to create and improve these products.
In another corner, we have Apple, which may not be close to creating a competing service like Duplex, but if it does, the information may never leave your phone. The same goes for facial recognition data embedded in future Apple security cameras, or any other artificial intelligence processing that typically requires data to be sent to be processed, stored, analyzed, and used – for whatever purpose – away from your device.
Both Google and Facebook have announced improvements in the privacy of their products over the past year, but it is clear that Apple is taking a different path. And if privacy concerns become a key – or primary – factor in buying smart devices, then Apple is probably best able to satisfy those buyers with acquisitions like Xnor.ai.