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Apple’s latest hire just might make Siri seriously smarter

John Giannandrea speaking in 2017. TechCrunch

A day after news broke of John Giannandrea’s departure from Google, it has emerged that the artificial intelligence (A.I.) and search specialist has gone to Apple in what is widely seen as a coup for the tech giant.

The 53-year-old Scot will head up Apple’s “machine learning and A.I. strategy,” according to the NY Times, with efforts expected to focus on improving Siri, its digital assistant. Apple is currently embarked on a hiring spree for software engineers as the company seeks to enhance Siri so it can compete more effectively with rival digital assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant.

At a TechCrunch event in September 2017, Apple’s latest hire described computers as “incredibly powerful” but also “pretty dumb … I think we need to work hard to make them fulfill the potential that they have and so that means teaching them to be smarter.”

Giannandrea continued, “Technology should augment the human intellect, not replace it. It should be a powerful tool to help us think better, and I think that is really the journey we are on.”

Discussing where he believes technology is heading, the executive also described the likelihood of “pervasive computing” that’s personalized, where computing power is built into the infrastructure throughout the environment instead of taken with us in a device like a smartphone. He pointed to the Google Home smart speaker as an early indication of what’s coming, though now that he’s at Apple, his attention will be firmly fixed on advancing Apple’s recently released, Siri-enabled smart speaker, the HomePod.

The NY Times learned of Giannandrea’s move to Apple via an internal email sent by CEO Tim Cook to employees.

“Our technology must be infused with the values we all hold dear,” the CEO wrote, adding, “John shares our commitment to privacy and our thoughtful approach as we make computers even smarter and more personal.”

Giannandrea spent eight years at Google, and was instrumental in incorporating A.I. features into a range of its offerings, among them Search, Gmail, and Google Assistant.

He arrived at the web giant from a San Francisco-based startup called Metaweb where he worked as its chief technology officer. Metaweb described itself as an “open, shared database of the world’s knowledge” and was acquired by Google in 2010, bringing Giannandrea into the company in the process.

Giannandrea will become one of 16 Apple executives reporting directly to Tim Cook.

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