Artificial Intelligence Just Broke Steve Jobs’ Wall of Secrecy

DATE: 06/12/2016

The artificial intelligence researcher Russ Salakhutdinov made headlines today when he said was going to start publishing journal articles and spending time talking to academics.

That wouldn’t be news, except Salakhutdinov works for Apple—a company famous for an extreme breed of corporate secrecy. Over the past two decades, people who work at Apple haven’t talked to much of anyone about the far-reaching research (or anything else) happening inside the company. And that certainly includes academics.

But Salakhutdinov works in an area where secrecy just doesn’t play. As it happens, this field of research is more important to the future of tech giants like Apple than any other. Salakhutdinov oversees Apple’s artificial intelligence group, and the only way he can recruit top researchers is to reassure them that once they get to Apple, they can continue to publish their work and share their ideas with the larger AI community. This free exchange of ideas is just the academic way, but experts also believe it’s the best way to accelerate the progress of AI. “When you do research in secret, you fall behind,” Facebook AI head Yann LeCun told me earlier this year.

If Apple wants to keep up with Facebook and the other big names that have already embraced the AI technique called deep learning so completely—Google, Microsoft, the Elon Musk-backed startup OpenAI—Apple must share research as these others have done. OpenAI was founded on the idea that it would freely share all its research—or least as much as it possibly could. With this pitch, it landed some of the field’s top talent, poaching several researchers from Facebook and Google.


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