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Apple wants to improve its AI offerings by collecting more of your data

Why it matters to you

Your iPhone could soon get a whole lot smarter -- but only if you allow Apple to collect and analyze more of your data.

Apple wants to take its artificial intelligence offerings to the next level. How is it going to do that? Well, the next version of iOS 10 will¬†allow users to share their iCloud data with Apple to help improve Apple’s software products and to help make Siri smarter. The iOS 10.3 beta was released earlier this week and the consumer version will likely roll out in coming months.

Features like this obviously send off privacy alarm bells, but the fact is users have to opt into the new feature for data to be sent to Apple — it won’t be enabled by default. Not only that, but Apple says it will employ “privacy preserving techniques” in using the data — such as the “differential privacy” it showed off at the Worldwide Developers Conference¬†in June.

So what is this “differential privacy?” Well, it is basically a way to scramble user data so that it cannot be traced back to any particular user, after which data can be analyzed in bulk to look for trends — all without Apple knowing which data relates to you.

Google has remained a few steps ahead of Apple when it comes to artificial intelligence and developing machine learning software to implement into software services, but that is arguably because Apple prioritizes data privacy a little more than Google. Still, Apple’s hardware sales are gradually slowing, meaning there is more pressure on the company to develop more innovative software — which, these days, means having to make use of artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Indeed, services like iMessage, Spotlight Search, and Notes already make use of new machine learning techniques. iMessage, for example, uses data from your keyboard to predict text and emojis, while Spotlight Search flags popular searches to better rank search results, and Notes, which is getting more interactive by underlining things like dates, which can send events to your calendar.

Apple’s journey into true artificial intelligence is slow, but it is steady and effective too. We’ll likely see a ton more artificial intelligence features in iOS 11 and beyond.