SAN FRANCISCO – Apple has hired Google’s chief of search and artificial intelligence, John Giannandrea, a major coup in its bid to catch up to the artificial-intelligence technology of its rivals.
Apple said Tuesday that Giannandrea will run Apple’s “machine learning and AI strategy,” and become one of 16 executives who report directly to Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook.
The hire is a victory for Apple, which many Silicon Valley executives and analysts view as lagging its peers in artificial intelligence, an increasingly critical technology for companies that enable computers to handle more complex tasks, like understanding voice commands or identifying people in images.
“Our technology must be infused with the values we all hold dear,” Cook said in an e-mail to staff members obtained by the New York Times. “John shares our commitment to privacy and our thoughtful approach as we make computers even smarter and more personal.”
While Apple has risen to become the world’s most valuable publicly traded company on the back of the iPhone, many in the technology industry consider the iPhone’s digital assistant, Siri, to be less effective than its counterparts at Google and Amazon.
Giannandrea, 53, a native of Scotland known to colleagues as J.G., helped lead the push to integrate AI throughout Google’s products, including internet search, Gmail and its own digital assistant, dubbed the Google assistant.
He joined Google in 2010 when it purchased Metaweb, a startup where he served as chief technology officer. Metaweb was building what it described as a “database of the world’s knowledge,” which Google eventually rolled into its search engine to deliver direct answers to users’ queries. (Try googling “How old is Steph Curry?”) During Giannandrea’s tenure, AI research became increasingly important inside Google, with its primary AI lab, Google Brain, moving into a space beside Chief Executive Sundar Pichai.
Engineers with AI expertise are some of the most sought-after people in Silicon Valley, with salaries sometimes exceeding eight figures. When news broke Monday that Giannandrea was unexpectedly stepping down as Google’s AI chief, he immediately became perhaps the most eligible tech executive on the market. By Tuesday, it became clear he was never really on the market.