Apple isn't as far behind in AI as you think

There’s an article going around that claims Apple could be the next BlackBerry as it gets left behind in the AI arms race.

Don’t believe it.

Yes, Google is better than Apple at some kinds of AI. If the tech giants were playing in Go, then Google would win by a mile. The thing is, Apple doesn’t have to match Google in all kinds of AI, only the things that matter to Apple.

How does Apple use AI today? It analyses how to get places in Maps. Predicts what you’ll like in Music and News. Recognises faces in Photos. Understands what you’re saying with Siri and lets you interact with various apps. Learns what kind of apps you want when.

Apple may not be the best at these things, but it’s good enough at most that the difference doesn’t matter. Take music. People in the industry tell me that Apple, Google, Spotify, and others are comparably good at predicting what kind of music you’ll like. All you need to do that well is a lot of data and a fairly sophisticated team.

Apple also has deals to patch over the areas where its AI is weak. Ask Siri to search the internet, and it will source Bing.

Apple also lets users download apps if they prefer a competing product. If you love Google or Microsoft, you’re free to use their digital assistants and services on your iPhone.

In short, AI isn’t a big problem for Apple today.

I wouldn’t expect that to change in the near future. Chatbots? Ubiquitous voice assistants? First of all, this may be a lack of imagination on my part, but I don’t see these things radically changing how I interact with tech: in fact, I already find it pretty easy to do the things I need to do on a daily basis. Second, Apple is plenty good at these things and should be able to hold its own through strategic research, purchases, and deals.

Apple should be able to hold its own in cars, too, whatever it’s planning there. Even in self-driving AI — if Apple enters that game — there’s effective parity between Google, Tesla, and everyone else, and it’s hard to see how that will change.

In the far future? Yes, human-level AIJ.A.R.V.I.S.-type stuff — will be a huge deal, but even Google executives say this is decades away. It’s way too early to say if Apple will miss the boat on that stuff. What if IBM gets there first and licenses its tech to Apple? What if everyone gets there at the same time and there’s industry parity? What if an earthquake destroys California?

So, yes, Apple isn’t the best at AI, but it provides everything users need one way or another, and that won’t change anytime soon.

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