Apple just landed the most sought-after free agent in Silicon Valley -- and he'll report directly to Tim Cook

Apple CEO Tim Cook. Photo: Scott Olson/ Getty Images.
  • Apple has hired John Giannandrea, who was Google’s head of search.
  • He’ll work on machine learning and artificial intelligence and report directly to CEO Tim Cook, according to The New York Times.
  • It’s a big victory for Apple, as Giannandrea would be a hot commodity on the open market.

Apple has hired one of Silicon Valley’s search and artificial-intelligence gurus to bolster its AI software,The New York Times reported on Tuesday.

John Giannandrea, Google’s former chief of search, will join Apple and report directly to CEO Tim Cook, according to the report.

“John shares our commitment to privacy and our thoughtful approach as we make computers even smarter and more personal,” Cook wrote in an internal email seen by The New York Times.

Giannandrea was one of the most powerful people at Google, overseeing the entire search organisation. That means he has led teams that have used machine learning in products that billions of people have used.

That’s the exact kind of expertise that Apple needs as Siri – its online assistant that’s basically a search engine you access with your voice – increasingly faces competition from services like Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa. Apple’s new smart speaker, HomePod, has also seen mixed reviews since launching earlier this year.

Machine-learning talent in Silicon Valley is in short supply, and qualified experts have been offered millions of dollars to jump from Google to other tech companies. So on Monday, when Giannandrea was said to have left Google, he immediately became one of the sought-after free agents in technology – but it looks as if Apple had him locked up the entire time.

Giannandrea does not have a lot of academic-style machine-learning papers in his name, The Wall Street Journal reports. Instead, he has focused on applying machine learning to production products.

But he is intensely respected in Silicon Valley, where he had stints at legendary ’90s technology companies including Netscape and General Magic.

“He’s an OG Valley technology visionary,” the Netscape cofounder Marc Andreessen told Recode in 2016.

Giannandrea is “always on the leading edge,” Andreessen said, adding: “Always learn new things when I talk to him.”

Apple didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

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