Apple Shares Research into Self-Driving Car Software That Improves Obstacle Detection

Apple computer scientists working on autonomous vehicle technology have posted a research paper online describing how self-driving cars can spot cyclists and pedestrians using fewer sensors (via Reuters).

The paper by Yin Zhou and Oncel Tuzel was submitted to online independent journal arXiv on November 17, in what appears to be Apple's first publicly disclosed research on autonomous vehicle technology.


The paper is titled "End-to-End Learning for Point Cloud Based 3D Object Detection", and describes how new software developed by Apple scientists improves the ability of LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) systems to recognize objects including pedestrians and cyclists from a distance.

Self-driving cars typically use a combination of standard cameras and depth-sensing LiDAR units to receive information about the world around them.

Apple's research team said they were able to get "highly encouraging results" using LiDAR data alone to spot cyclists and pedestrians, and wrote that they were also able to beat other approaches for detecting 3D objects that rely solely on LiDAR tech. The experiments were limited to computer simulations and did not advance to road tests.

Apple famously has a secretive research policy and has kept its work under wraps for many years, but over the last 12 months, the company has shared some of its research advancements with other researchers and the wider public, particularly in the area of machine learning.

In December 2016, Apple said that it would start allowing its AI and machine learning researchers to publish and share their work in papers, with the first paper appearing just a few weeks following the announcement.

Additionally, in July of this year, Apple researchers initiated the "Apple Machine Learning Journal", a blog detailing their work on machine learning, AI, and other related topics.

This new policy of openness could help Apple retain employees who do not want to keep their progress a secret, but the latest research into autonomous vehicle technology also lets regulators see that the company is making progress in this area. Last December, Apple told federal regulators it was excited about the technology and asked them not to restrict testing. In April, the company also filed a self-driving car testing plan with California regulators.

Apple CEO Tim Cook has called autonomy "the mother of all AI projects". During an August 2017 earnings call, Cook re-emphasized Apple's deep interest in the technology, and even hinted Apple's work on autonomy could be used for more than vehicles.

Apple has presumably been working on an autonomous driving system since 2014, when rumors of its efforts to create an electric vehicle first surfaced. Apple has now moved away from creating a full vehicle and is said to be focusing on self-driving technology instead.


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Industry Group Representing Apple and Google Releases AI Policy Principles

The Information Technology Industry Council (ITI), an industry group that represents several tech companies like Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and Facebook, this week released Artificial Intelligence Policy Principles [PDF] covering responsible and ethical artificial intelligence development.


"We recognize our responsibility to integrate principles into the design of AI technologies, beyond compliance with existing laws," reads the document. AI researchers and stakeholders should "spend a great deal of time" working to ensure the "responsible design and deployment of AI systems." Some of the specific policies addressed are outlined below:

Government: The ITI supports government investment in fields related to AI and encourages governments to evaluate existing tools and use caution before adopting new laws, regulations, and taxes that could impede the responsible development and use of AI. ITI also discourages governments from requiring tech companies to provide access to technology, source code, algorithms, and encryption keys.

Public-Private Partnerships: Public-Private Partnerships should be utilized to speed up AI research and development, democratize access, prioritize diversity and inclusion, and prepare the workforce for the implications of artificial intelligence.

Responsible Design and Deployment: Highly autonomous AI systems must be designed consistent with international conventions that preserve human dignity, rights, and freedoms. It is the industry's responsibility to recognize potential for misuse and commit to ethics by design.

Safety and Controllability: Autonomous agents must treat the safety of users and third parties as a paramount concern and AI technologies should aim to reduce risks to humans. AI systems must have safeguards to ensure the controllability of the AI system by humans.

Robust and Representative Data: AI systems need to leverage large datasets to avoid potentially harmful bias.

The ITI goes on to encourage robust support for AI research, a flexible regulatory approach, and strong cybersecurity and privacy provisions.

ITI President Dean Garfield told Axios that the guidelines have been released as a way for the industry to get involved in the discussion about AI. In the past, the group has learned "painful lessons" about staying on the sidelines of debates about emerging technology.

"Sometimes our instinct is to just put our head down and do our work, to develop, design, and innovate," he said. "But there's a recognition that our ability to innovate is going to be affected by how society perceives it."


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Apple Hires AI Team From Init.ai to Join Work on Siri

Apple this week "acqui-hired" the team from Init.ai, a startup that designed a smart assistant to allow customer service representatives to easily parse through and automate some interactions with users, reports TechCrunch.

The startup focused on creating an AI with natural language processing and machine learning to analyze chat-based conversations between humans.


Init.ai announced that it was shutting down its service earlier this week to join a new project.
Today is an exciting day for our team. Init.ai is joining a project that touches the lives of countless people across the world. We are thrilled and excited at the new opportunities this brings us.

However, this means Init.ai will discontinue its service effective December 16th 2017. While we wish to make this transition as smooth as possible, we cannot continue to operate Init.ai going forward.
Apple did not purchase Init.ai and will not obtain any intellectual property nor is there an indication that Apple plans to use any existing Init.ai services. Instead, Apple has taken on the Init.ai team, who will now work on Apple's Siri personal assistant.

The addition of the Init.ai team may hint at Apple's future Siri plans, with the company perhaps planning to build out more business integrations to supplement Business Chat, the iOS 11 iMessage feature that allows businesses to communicate with customers.

TechCrunch says it's not entirely clear how many people from Init.ai will be transitioning to Apple, but the startup only employed six people.


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Apple Updates Machine Learning Journal With Three Articles on Siri Technology

Back in July, Apple introduced the "Apple Machine Learning Journal," a blog detailing Apple's work on machine learning, AI, and other related topics. The blog is written entirely by Apple's engineers, and gives them a way to share their progress and interact with other researchers and engineers.

Apple today published three new articles to the Machine Learning Journal, covering topics that are based on papers Apple will share this week at Interspeech 2017 in Stockholm, Sweden.


The first article may be the most interesting to casual readers, as it explores the deep learning technology behind the Siri voice improvements introduced in iOS 11. The other two articles cover the technology behind the way dates, times, and other numbers are displayed, and the work that goes into introducing Siri in additional languages.

Links to all three articles are below:

Apple is notoriously secret and has kept its work under wraps for many years, but over the course of the last few months, the company has been open to sharing some of its machine learning advancements. The blog, along with research papers, allows Apple engineers to participate in the wider AI community and may help the company retain employees who do not want to keep their progress a secret.


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Apple AI Expert’s Full TED Talk Now Available on YouTube

Back in April, Apple product designer and Siri co-founder Tom Gruber gave a TED Talk, where he spoke about his vision of the future of computers and artificial intelligence.

The full 10-minute TED Talk was today published on YouTube, giving us a chance to hear his complete thoughts on the future of AI and Siri.


In his talk, Gruber says computers should be used to lessen human failings, like memory, and augment human capabilities. He believes computers should log all aspects of our lives, allowing us to remember the people we've met and details about them, like favorite sports, family members, and name pronunciation.

Gruber's talk also covers the importance of privacy and a range of useful applications for AI, like cancer detection and advanced personal assistants like Siri.


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Apple Developing ‘Apple Neural Engine’ Chip to Power AI in iOS Devices

Apple is developing a dedicated processor that will be used to handle AI-related tasks like facial and speech recognition in its products, reports Bloomberg. Citing a source with knowledge of Apple's plans, the site says the chip is known internally as the "Apple Neural Engine."

Apple plans to use the chip, which would work alongside the standard processor and the graphics chip, to add more advanced artificial intelligence capabilities into its devices and to offload demanding AI processing tasks that can impact battery life.
An AI-enabled processor would help Cupertino, California-based Apple integrate more advanced capabilities into devices, particularly cars that drive themselves and gadgets that run augmented reality, the technology that superimposes graphics and other information onto a person's view of the world.
The chip could potentially handle tasks like facial recognition in the photos application, parts of speech recognition, and power the predictive keyboard in the iPhone and iPad. Apple may also allow developers to access the chip to power AI-related features in third-party apps.

An AI chip would not be the first chip that handles dedicated tasks in the iPhone. Starting with the iPhone 5s in 2013, Apple devices have included a motion coprocessor used to collect and store sensor data. The motion coprocessor allows the iPhone and iPad to continually track movement and other sensor data without using significant battery. It also powers features like the always-on "Hey Siri" capability built into modern iPhones.

Apple has already tested prototypes of future iPhones with the AI chip, but it is unclear if such a chip is ready for a debut in the iPhone 8. Going forward, should development on the chip continue, Apple is said to be planning to integrate it into many of its devices.


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Apple AI Expert Says Computers Should Augment Human Failings

Apple product designer and Siri co-founder Tom Gruber gave a TED Talk today, where he covered his vision of the future of computers and artificial intelligence. Both Axios and Business Insider shared details on his talk.


According to Gruber, computers should be used to augment human failings, like memory. He believes computers should log every aspect of our lives, allowing us to remember every person we've met and every aspect about them, like favorite sports, family members, and name pronunciation.
"I believe AI will make personal memory enhancement a reality. I think it's inevitable," he said onstage, adding that he doesn't know when or how it will happen. [...]

Gruber imagines that this kind of technology will not only be useful for satisfying data geeks who want to optimize their health and happiness, but it could also assist those who suffer from diseases like dementia and schizophrenia. "It's the difference between a life of isolation and one of dignity and connection," he said.
Privacy, is of course, a key part of artificial intelligence and future computing capabilities. "We get to choose what is and is not recalled," said Gruber. "It's absolutely essential that this be kept very secure."

Apple has already taken the first steps towards linking artificial intelligence and memory, with its Photos app. Photos on Mac and iOS devices includes a "Memories" feature that intelligently organizes photos into dynamic events that can be relived through the app. It also incorporates facial recognition and deep levels of privacy - facial recognition features are not cross-device and do not sync over iCloud.

Gruber also highlighted other useful applications for artificial intelligence, like cancer detection and more advanced personal assistants like Siri.


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Apple Expanding Seattle Hub Working on AI and Machine Learning

Apple will expand its presence in downtown Seattle, where it has a growing team working on artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies, according to GeekWire.

The report claims Apple will expand into additional floors in Two Union Square, and this will allow its Turi team to move into the building and provide space for future employees.
“We’re trying to find the best people who are excited about AI and machine learning — excited about research and thinking long term but also bringing those ideas into products that impact and delight our customers,” said computer scientist Carlos Guestrin, Apple director of machine learning. “The bar is high, but we’re going to be hiring as quickly as we can find people that meet our high bar, which is exciting.”
Apple's director of machine learning Carlos Guestrin, who founded Turi and is a University of Washington professor, said the Seattle team collaborates "extensively" with groups at Apple's headquarters in Cupertino, including working on new AI features for upcoming Apple products and services.

Guestrin said AI, for example, will enable the iPhone to be more understanding and predictive in the future:
“But what’s going to make a major difference in the future, in addition to those things, for me to be emotionally connected to this device, is the intelligence that it has — how much it understands me, how much it can predict what I need and what I want, and how valuable it is at being a companion to me,” he said. “AI is going to be at the core of that, and we’re going to be some of the people who help with that, here in Seattle, but of course there will be tons of groups in Cupertino doing amazing things with that, too.”
Guestrin said Apple is doing long-term research in Seattle, looking ahead "three to 10 years," while also focusing on the near term by developing new features for upcoming Apple products.
"We work on the whole spectrum," he said. "It's not just about doing research, but it's about the technology transfer and how that gets embedded into experiences that customers love."
Today, the University of Washington will reportedly announce a new $1 million endowed professorship in AI and machine learning, which is said to have been made possible by Apple's acquisition of Turi last year. The endowment is named after Guestrin, and it will allow the university to attract more top talent in the field.

Last month, Apple became a member of the Partnership on AI, a non-profit organization established "to study and formulate best practices, to advance the public's understanding of AI, and to serve as an open platform for discussion and engagement about AI and its influences on people and society".

A recent report, which referenced Turi, said Apple is working on "enhanced" Siri capabilities for next-generation iPhones.


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Apple Formally Announced as ‘Partnership on AI’ Founding Member

Apple has formally joined the Partnership on AI as a founding member, confirming an earlier report, the organization announced today.
Apple has joined the Partnership on AI as a founding member. The company has been involved and collaborating with the Partnership since before it was first announced and is thrilled to formalize its membership alongside Amazon, Facebook, Google/DeepMind, IBM, and Microsoft.
Siri co-founder Tom Gruber, who heads advanced development of the assistant at Apple, will serve on the Partnership's inaugural Board of Trustees.

iOS-9-Siri
The Partnership on AI is a non-profit research consortium established in September to "study and formulate best practices, to advance the public's understanding of AI, and to serve as an open platform for discussion and engagement about AI and its influences on people and society," according to its website.

Apple has always been notoriously secretive, but it recently started allowing its AI and machine learning researchers to publish papers. The company's contributions to the broader artificial intelligence research community could help it attract top talent that would not otherwise want to join the tech giant.

Apple has been recruiting talent and acquired several AI-related companies in recent months, including Turi, VocalIQ, Perceptio, and Emotient, to build out its in-house AI team led by Carnegie Mellon professor Russ Salakhutdinov.

Apple is rumored to be working on "enhanced" Siri capabilities for next-generation iPhones to keep up with competitors such as Amazon's Alexa.


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Apple Set to Join Microsoft, Google, Facebook, in AI Research Group

Apple will take a significant step toward disclosing more of its artificial intelligence research this week by becoming a member of a non-profit AI research consortium founded by five of the tech industry's biggest players.

Last September, Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and IBM publicly announced The Partnership on AI, an organisation established "to study and formulate best practices, to advance the public's understanding of AI, and to serve as an open platform for discussion and engagement about AI and its influences on people and society".

Partnership on AI
As one of the biggest researchers in AI, Apple's name was conspicuously absent, but that looks set to change in the coming days, following a Bloomberg report on Thursday that Cupertino is ready to add its name to The Partnership's list of corporate heavyweights.
According to its website, the Partnership on AI intends to conduct research, organize discussions, share insights, provide thought leadership, consult with relevant third parties, respond to questions from the public and media, and create educational material that advance the understanding of AI technologies including machine perception, learning, and automated reasoning.
Apple's imminent membership is just the latest indication that the company is prepared to reveal more of its work in areas of artificial intelligence. At an invitation-only AI conference held in Barcelona last month, where Apple employees discussed their work in various related fields, the company announced it would begin allowing its AI and machine learning researchers to publish and share their work in papers.

Two weeks later, the first paper was published, covering Apple's work on intelligent image recognition. Cupertino is also known to be working on a range of other AI projects, including health and vital signs, LiDAR, neural networks, intelligent assistant and language modeling, and activity recognition.

While the Partnership's founding members are committed to publishing a wide range of research under an open license, just how much of this work will be shared remains unclear, but we should know more soon. Apple is expected to announce its membership in the Partnership later this week.


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