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Apple is bulking up its expertise in generative AI to adapt it for iPhones and iPads, as the world’s biggest company by market value seeks to take advantage of the technology that has taken the industry by storm this year.
The Cupertino-based tech giant is hiring for dozens of roles across offices in California, Seattle, Paris and Beijing that will work on large language models or LLMs — software that can produce plausible text, images or code in response to simple prompts.
All the jobs were advertised between April and July and indicated that Apple was working on “ambitious long-term research projects that will impact the future of Apple, and our products”.
Multiple teams at Apple, such as the Machine Intelligence, Neural Design (MIND) group, are recruiting researchers and engineers for jobs ranging from fundamental research on LLMs in its Paris lab, to compressing existing language models so they can run efficiently on mobile devices, rather than in the cloud.
While rivals such as Microsoft-backed OpenAI and Google have been quicker to release generative AI products such as chatbots and productivity assistants, Apple’s job ads indicate the company is expanding efforts to bring cutting-edge technologies like LLMs specifically to mobile.
This remains a huge technical challenge not yet solved by Apple’s competitors, but will be vital to the iPhone-maker’s core businesses in device sales and associated services.
On a call with investors on Thursday, Apple chief executive Tim Cook called AI and machine learning “core, fundamental technologies that are integral to virtually every product that we build”. Apple’s research and development spending for the third quarter was $3.1bn higher than at this point last year, which Cook partly attributed to generative AI, saying Apple was “investing a lot” over coming months.
The company has thus far talked cautiously about enhancing existing features like autocorrect and animations of photos, using machine learning.
“Their short-term goal is to integrate [generative AI] with existing products to make it productive and useful immediately,” said Lukasz Olejnik, an independent researcher and cyber security consultant who works with big tech companies.
The benefits of running AI software on phones — without the need for an internet connection or to send data to the cloud — are that apps can run more quickly and allow a user’s data to be processed in a more secure and private way. Operating AI on mobile devices would “have superior privacy protection properties,” Olejnik said.
One ad, for instance, says it seeks a senior software engineer to “implement features that compress and accelerate LLMs in our on-device inference engine”, referring to AI operations on mobile rather than on the web.
Another, from July 28, states that the company wants to bring “state of the art foundation models to the phone in your pocket, enabling the next generation of ML-based experiences in a privacy-preserving way”.
Privacy has become an important part of the company’s marketing pitch as it tries to distinguish itself from Google and Facebook. Its digital assistant Siri already offers on-device speech recognition, which Apple says is a way to address privacy concerns around “unwanted audio recording.”
Some roles focus on enhancing multimedia capabilities of AI software, including generating “image/video content . . . for visual actions and multi-turn interactions”, according to one of the ads.
In Paris, Apple is attempting to sweep up local AI talent and is hiring more aggressively than other large tech companies, according to an AI entrepreneur in France, who recently left a Big Tech company. Apple currently has a small Paris lab and recently hired researchers from Facebook owner Meta, but planned to grow further, the person said.
In 2020, Apple paid almost $200mn for Seattle-based AI start up Xnor which specialises in running complex machine learning models on mobile devices, beating out approaches from other big groups including Microsoft, Amazon and Intel, according to two people familiar with the purchase. The acquisition built on Apple’s growing presence in Seattle.
Bloomberg reported last month that Apple began experimenting with its own ChatGPT-like tools late last year.
Apple declined to comment on its hiring plans.