Apple CEO Tim Cook says AI is a fundamental technology, confirms investments in generative AI

During yesterday’s fourth-quarter earnings conference call with investors, Apple CEO Tim Cook somewhat pushed back on the notion that the company was behind the curve on AI, pointing out technological developments recently made by Apple which “would not be possible without AI”. Specifically, the executive cited new iOS 17 features like Personal Voice and Live Voicemail as examples of its innovation with AI technologies. Additionally, Cook confirmed that Apple is working on generative AI technologies.

The features Cook discusses are not necessarily considered AI by consumers, and that may be due to design. Cook suggested that Apple doesn’t necessarily call features “AI.”

“We label them based on the benefit to the consumer,” Cook said. “But the fundamental technology behind all of this is AI and machine learning.”

Personal Voice, for example, is an accessibility feature designed to create an automated voice that sounds like you. It is intended for people who lose the ability to speak due to various health conditions, including ALS. To use this feature, users first spend 15 minutes reading text prompts into the device’s microphone. Then, using machine learning technologies, the audio is processed locally on their iPhone, iPad or Mac to create their own personal voice that sounds like them.

Live voicemail, on the other hand, is new consumer-facing feature in iOS 17 which displays a live transcription of a voice message while it is being recorded in real time.

“AI is at the heart of these capabilities,” Cook told investors. “And then you can access the life-saving features of the watch and the phone, like fall detection, accident detection, ECG on the watch. All this would not be possible without AI,” he stressed.

The Apple executive also confirmed that the company was developing generative AI technologies, saying “obviously we have work going on.” But he declined to share details, noting that Apple doesn’t actually do that.

“But you can be sure that we are investing, we are investing a lot, we are going to do it responsibly and it will be – you will see advancements in the products over time, where these technologies are at the heart of them” , Cook added.

Apple, however, appears to have some catching up to do in terms of consumer-facing AI technologies, which have gained attention in recent months thanks to the launch of tools like OpenAI’s ChatGPT and others from companies like Anthropic and Google.

The company has reportedly increased its budget for developing AI to “millions of dollars a day.” according to The Information, and employs several teams working on LLMs (large language models) to attempt to use the technology. The hope is that one day users will be able to automate tasks via Siri, which today must be programmed manually, for example through the Shortcuts app. Additionally, Siri could learn new AI skills, such as being asked to flip the latest photos a user took on their iPhone and text them to a friend, according to the report.

Bloomberg also noted that the next version of iOS will include more AI features, including changes to Siri and the Messages app, in terms of question answering and sentence completion – similar to Google autocomplete for Gmail. The outlet also suggested that generative AI would be integrated into Apple developer tools, like Xcode.

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