Apple’s release of Siri, the iPhone’s “virtual assistant,” a day after Jobs’s death, is as good a prognosticator as any that artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning will be central to Apple’s next generation of products, as it will be for the tech industry more generally … A device in which these capabilities are much strengthened would be able to achieve, in real time and in multiple domains, the very thing Steve Jobs sought all along: the ability to give people what they want before they even knew they wanted it.
What this might look like was demonstrated earlier this year, not by Apple but by Google, at its annual developer conference, where it unveiled an early prototype of Now on Tap. What Tap does, essentially, is mine the information on one’s phone and make connections between it. For example, an e-mail from a friend suggesting dinner at a particular restaurant might bring up reviews of that restaurant, directions to it, and a check of your calendar to assess if you are free that evening. If this sounds benign, it may be, but these are early days—the appeal to marketers will be enormous.
Google is miles ahead of Apple with respect to AI and machine learning. This stands to reason, in part, because Google’s core business emanates from its search engine, and search engines generate huge amounts of data. But there is another reason, too, and it loops back to Steve Jobs and the culture of secrecy he instilled at Apple, a culture that prevails. As Tim Cook told Charlie Rose during that 60 Minutes interview, “one of the great things about Apple is that [we] probably have more secrecy here than the CIA.”
This institutional ethos appears to have stymied Apple’s artificial intelligence researchers from collaborating or sharing information with others in the field, crimping AI development and discouraging top researchers from working at Apple. “The really strong people don’t want to go into a closed environment where it’s all secret,” Yoshua Benigo, a professor of computer science at the University of Montreal told Bloomberg Business in October. “The differentiating factors are, ‘Who are you going to be working with?’ ‘Am I going to stay a part of the scientific community?’ ‘How much freedom will I have?’”
Steve Jobs had an abiding belief in freedom—his own. As Gibney’s documentary, Boyle’s film, and even Schlender and Tetzeli’s otherwise friendly assessment make clear, as much as he wanted to be free of the rules that applied to other people, he wanted to make his own rules that allowed him to superintend others. The people around him had a name for this. They called it Jobs’s “reality distortion field.” And so we are left with one more question as Apple goes it alone on artificial intelligence: Will hubris be the final legacy of Steve Jobs?
Source: The New York Review of Books