Apple Taps Carnegie Mellon AI Expert Ruslan Salakhutdinov: Siri Getting Beefed Up?


Apple's playing catch-up in the race for artificial intelligence, joining many others headlining the development toward products capable of machine-learning.

Egged on by Samsung's recent acquisition of the team behind Siri, the company has chosen Ruslan Salakhutdinov, a formidable computer science professor from the esteemed Carnegie Mellon University, to be the director of artificial intelligence research at Apple.

Salakhutdinov won't abandon professorial duty. He may continue to work on Carnegie for research and tinker with Macs and iPhones simultaneously. It remains unspecified what the job description exactly is for someone helming Apple's AI research front, but as per Recode's observations, it'll most likely study the context behind questions that users ask Apple's voice-activated virtual assistant Siri. The professor's latest research that dabbles with contextual derivatives behind a user's' voice input supports this.

Salakhutdinov's involvement may spell a significant improvement for Siri, often the target of critics, claiming that its slow evolution period is modest compared with Google's own Google Assistant, which offers a more sophisticated and functional voice command technology.

Artificial intelligence may help refine the algorithm, combing voice commands in search of context clues to understand better what a person is asking. Google is well-versed in this arena, and it has even gone beyond the "smart" functionalities of a voice assistant. It has also exerted a great deal to make the assistant vulnerable and friendly, as if users are really engaging in a conversation with another person. The inherent robotic vibe of virtual assistants is often the reason users trip on uncanny valley territory, so more efforts to humanize them in a natural way are also considered significantly.

However, Salakhutdinov may also bleed onto other features of iOS 10 that takes advantage of AI and not just Siri. Apple has packed these devices with machine learning capability for object and face recognition, and the Carnegie Mellon professor may very well develop that further too. Exact goals of Apple are up to speculation, but it's clear that the company is betting big on AI as an investment for its future. Less than a month ago, it was reported that Apple had acquired Tuplejump in June, an Indian machine learning company, with speculation that it's supposed to help beef up Siri and the company's cloud services, among other things.

Salakhutdinov joined Carnegie Mellon early this year, after stints at the University of Toronto and MIT. Microsoft, Samsung and Google are just some of the top-tier companies who have funded his research, according to his profile.

Jack Clark, who works for OpenAI, a non-profit AI research firm, said that Salakhutdinov is a "huge get" for Apple, noting that Salakhutdinov does amazing research on AI.

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