Apple’s famed obsession with secrecy in its product development process is hampering its work in the field of artificial intelligence, say academics working in the field. Bloomberg reports that AI experts believe that lack of two-way sharing of information slows development.

“Apple is off the scale in terms of secrecy,” says Richard Zemel, a professor in the computer science department at the University of Toronto. “They’re completely out of the loop.”

Apple Maps was cited as an example of what can go wrong when AI teams within Apple are cut off from other work being done in the field – and even from researchers in other teams within Apple. Worse, it is claimed, the approach makes it impossible for Apple to recruit the brightest people in the field …

“The really strong people don’t want to go into a closed environment where it’s all secret,” says Yoshua Bengio, an AI pioneer and professor of computer science at the University of Montreal. “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?’ ”

The secrecy at Apple means that those researchers who do attend conferences don’t present papers or even say who they work for unless directly asked. Apple doesn’t even allow new AI hires to update their LinkedIn accounts or announce their position on Twitter, according to Graham Taylor, a professor of machine learning at Ontario’s University of Guelph.

Academics have previously said that Apple’s commitment to the privacy of its customer data also poses a challenge for the company. Machine learning relies heavily on crunching large amounts of data to identify patterns, but Apple deliberately limits the amount of data sent from iPhones to its servers.

Apple recently acquired Perceptio, a startup specialising in technology that allows AI systems to be run on smartphones while limiting the amount of user data shared with cloud-based servers.

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Ben Lovejoy

Ben Lovejoy is a British technology writer and EU Editor for 9to5Mac. He’s known for his op-eds and diary pieces, exploring his experience of Apple products over time, for a more rounded review. He also writes fiction, with two technothriller novels, a couple of SF shorts and a rom-com!

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