Apple is busy make no mistakes – AI is already a real thing
2023 has been the year that artificial intelligence has taken hold of society. It will be a year to remember – the year it possibly all changed forever. Has Apple missed the boat? No, not as much as you may think at first.
I was in London last week at the Podcast Show and it’s fair to say that the floor was buzzing with the term AI – I’m not convinced that everyone using it was certain of their facts, but it was the buzzword of the event.
Bard, Google MusicLM, Midjourney, DALL-E and the daddy of them all ChatGPT – AI is everywhere. This past five months have seen AI move at such a speed that even those of us close to it have been blown away by its development and integration.
And while everyone seems to have a piece of the pie, all Apple has is Siri – at least on the face of it. But on digging a little further, Apple is at the AI party more than you might have first thought.
The trouble is for Apple, they are too big!
Let me explain that a little further. Virtually every other company can step forward in the AI race and get some form of engine or bot out there quickly to satisfy the current demand – almost with an in-it-to-win-it mentality. If mistakes happen to them, they’ll be put down to the natural learning curve. But for Apple, the stakes would always be higher.
If they were to have released a brand new chatbot that gave out wrong advice or answers, for Apple though it would be bad headlines and weeks spent mopping up the ensuing bad press. When they come to market, it has to be right – as we are about to find out next week when they finally unwrap the AR/VR mixed reality headset.
But for those saying that Apple has been left napping – I’ve got news for you. Apple’s involvement and development of AI goes back a longer time than you may think – 2017 in fact and the launch of the A11 Bionic chip.
That was the first iPhone chip that was built around machine learning with its Neural Engine. Since then every iteration of the Bionic chip and the Neural Engine has been improved and quietly developed in the background. So much for Apple being behind the curve – really?
Long before we had Apple silicon, the company were deadly intent to develop on-device machine learning and AI almost before AI was a thing. Apple you see understood the values of what they were working on. While dedicated cores and Neural Engines may not sound too sexy or be headline-grabbing news they are the bedrock and cornerstone of Apple’s AI.
Last December, just as the AI train was starting to gather pace, were you aware that Apple had been hard at work spending time, resources and money on optimising Core ML for Stability Diffusion?
If you’ve not heard of it, Stability Diffusion is an Apple-developed code that generates images from text – what has now become known as generative AI. The image at the top was generated with the prompt;
“Produce a high-quality photo of an astronaut riding a (horse/dragon) in space”
And you have to admit, it didn’t make a bad fist of it – certainly not bad for a company with no interest in AI at any rate!
But Stable Diffusion goes beyond simply generating art. Artists and creatives are now discovering ways to use it for image editing, in-painting, out-painting, super-resolution, style transfer and even colour palette generation. So while DALL-E got the attention, Apple was gathering data and building Stable Diffusion. They were happy enough to let others take the heat, while they nurtured and perfected their back-end graphic AI engine.
Perversely, the more attention the other AI platforms get, the more it helps Apple. They can observe the trends, patterns and mistakes of others from a quiet, safe distance – how very Apple.
Weaving their way in
After Apple recently announced their second financial quarter 2023 results, Cook, as is now expected, took calls from analysts. The conversation naturally arched its way back to AI and where he felt they stood on it. One analyst in particular – Shannon Cross asked directly if he had anything to say on the subject. Cook’s typical, measured response was;
“I do think it’s very important to be deliberate and thoughtful in how you approach these things. There are a number of issues that need to be sorted, as is being talked about in several different places. But the potential is certainly very interesting. And we’ve obviously made enormous progress integrating AI and machine learning throughout our ecosystem, and we’ve weaved it into products and features for many years, as you probably know. You can see that in things like fall detection and crash detection, and ECG. These things are not only great features, but they’re also saving people’s lives out there. And so it’s absolutely remarkable. And so we view AI as huge, and we’ll continue weaving it in our products on a very thoughtful basis.”
Thoughtful and cautious are often found to be Apple’s bye-words – and they’ve not been proven wrong too often.
Just look at the work that has been put into the Photos app alone – using metadata to learn friends, families, favourite places and even family pets – turns out Apple has been busier than you though huh? And whilst talking photos don’t forget the image cut-out feature that lets you isolate an image from its background and place it in another app like messages for example. How quickly we forget…
Like it or not, AI is here to stay. You and I know that, and so too does Apple.
Which industries, creatives and livelihoods will be most affected we’ve yet to find out, but the horse has bolted and there is no turning back. It’s time to buckle up and get ready for the inevitable journey that’s coming.
Whilst on the face of it, Siri is not all that good (and I am being very polite in that take on it!), as you can tell from everything here, Apple is not dawdling in the AI race in any way whatsoever. To use the words of Tim Cook they have in fact been ”weaving” their brand of AI into our lives, ecosystems and devices.
In a week’s time, we’ll likely have a glimpse into the future when the headset is shown to us at WWDC. I mentioned earlier that best and not first aptly describes the ever-cautious Apple. And while the headset will obviously not please everyone and it will have its critics, it will be the very best that Apple has to offer.
The new XROS platform will lean heavily on gaming and AI. For the longest while Apple has known this headset would one day come to market and when it did artificial intelligence would be pivotal to it.
One thing you can be certain of is that there is no way that they would’ve been blindsided by that obvious fact. The headlines will come for Apple with the headset – and all they have quietly been learning and gathering will cohesively come together and bear glorious fruit.
Has Apple been caught napping in the Ai wars? What do you think?
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