Apple poaches talent from Google for secretive Swiss AI lab

May 2, 2024

  • Apple is seizing talent from other companies to fuel AI research
  • They've allegedly created a secret AI lab in Zurich, Switzerland
  • Apple could be developing AI products for its devices and the Vision Pro
Apple AI

Apple has been quietly expanding its AI efforts, poaching dozens of experts from Google and establishing a secretive research laboratory in Zurich, Switzerland. 

What’s Apple preparing for? Deeper AI integration into its phones, computers, and the Apple Vision Pro? Will they release a chatbot soon?

According to a Financial Times analysis of LinkedIn profiles, job postings, and research papers, the $2.7 trillion company has been on a hiring spree in recent years to grow its global AI and machine learning team. 

Apple has particularly targeted Google employees, accumulating an estimated 36 individuals since 2018.

While the majority of Apple‘s AI team operates from offices in California and Seattle, the company has also built a presence in Zurich. 

Professor Luc Van Gool from Swiss university ETH Zurich told the FT that Apple‘s acquisitions of two local AI startups, virtual reality group FaceShift and image recognition company Fashwell, led to the creation of a research lab known as the “Vision Lab” in the city.

The company has been advertising generative AI positions across two locations in Zurich, one of which maintains a particularly low profile. “A neighbour told the FT they were not even aware of the office’s existence,” the report noted

While considered a slow starter in generative AI, Apple has been intensifying AI R&D, as evidenced by:

  • This April: Apple‘s ReALM ‘sees’ on-screen visuals better than GPT-4, as developed by Apple engineers to resolve complex references to on-screen objects.
  • This March: Apple reveals MM1, its first family of multimodal LLMs, previewed in a research paper before the official release, showcasing the company’s advancements.
  • This March: Apple bought a Canadian AI startup, acquiring DarwinAI to focus on computer vision.
  • October 2023: Apple increases investment in generative AI to $1 billion yearly, significantly boosting funding to develop generative AI products.

Apple is likely highly focused on deploying generative AI on its mobile devices and computers, including using the technology to upgrade Siri. The Apple Vision Pro will also unleash numerous opportunities for Apple to collect valuable data and deploy AI software products. 

To pay Apple its fair dues for contributions to AI development, Chuck Wooters, an LLM expert who joined Apple in December 2013 and worked on Siri for almost two years, said, “During the time that I was there, one of the pushes that was happening in the Siri group was to move to a neural architecture for speech recognition. Even back then, before large language models took off, they were huge advocates of neural networks.”

Last year, CEO Tim Cook acknowledged that Apple was keen not to get swept along in generative AI hype but hinted that Apple AI projects are in the pipeline, including a codenamed chatbot named “Apple GPT.”

Cook also stated that AI is already embedded in the company’s products, stating AI is “integral to virtually every product that we build.”

The company’s most recent progress in generative AI may be displayed at the upcoming Worldwide Developers Conference in June.

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Sam Jeans

Sam is a science and technology writer who has worked in various AI startups. When he’s not writing, he can be found reading medical journals or digging through boxes of vinyl records.


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