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Apple CEO Tim Cook says AI is a fundamental technology, confirms investments in generative AI

Apple CEO Tim Cook pushed back a bit at the notion that the company was behind in AI on yesterday’s Q4 earnings call with investors, as he highlighted technology developments that Apple had made recently that “would not be possible without AI.” Specifically, the exec pointed to new iOS 17 features like Personal Voice and Live Voicemail as examples of its innovation with AI technologies. In addition, Cook confirmed Apple was working on generative AI technologies.

The features Cook called out aren’t necessarily thought of as AI by consumers, and that may be by design. Cook suggested that Apple doesn’t label the features as “AI” necessarily.

“We label them as to what their consumer benefit is,” Cook said. “But the fundamental technology behind it is AI and machine learning.”

Personal Voice, for example, is an accessibility feature designed to create an automated voice that sounds like you. It’s intended for people who are losing their speaking ability due to various health conditions, including ALS. To use the feature, people first spend 15 minutes reading text prompts into the device’s microphone. Then, using machine learning technologies, the audio is processed locally on their iPhone, iPad or Mac to create their own Personal Voice that sounds like them.

Live Voicemail, meanwhile, is a new consumer-facing feature in iOS 17 that displays a live transcription of a voicemail as it’s being recorded in real time.

“AI is at the heart of these features,” Cook told investors. “And then, you can go all the way to the lifesaving features on the watch and the phone like fall detection, crash detection, ECG on the watch. These would not be possible without AI,” he noted.

The Apple exec also confirmed that the company was developing generative AI technologies, saying “obviously, we have work going on.” But he declined to share details, noting that Apple doesn’t really do that.

“But you can bet that we’re investing, we’re investing quite a bit, we’re going to do it responsibly and it will — you will see product advancements over time where those technologies are at the heart of them,” Cook added.

Apple, however, seems to have some catching up to do in terms of consumer-facing AI technologies, which have gained attention in recent months thanks to launches of tools like OpenAI’s ChatGPT and others from companies like Anthropic and Google.

The company has been said to be expanding its budget for building AI to “millions of dollars a day,” according to The Information, and is employing multiple teams working on LLMs (large language models) as it attempts to put the tech to use. The hope is that one day users would be able to automate tasks via Siri, which today have to be manually programmed, for example via the Shortcuts app. In addition, Siri could gain new AI skills, like being told to turn the last few photos a user has taken on their iPhone and text it to a friend, the report said.

Bloomberg also noted the next version of iOS will include more AI capabilities, including changes to Siri and the Messages app, in terms of answering questions and completing sentences — similar to Google’s autocomplete for Gmail. The outlet also suggested generative AI would come to Apple development tools, like Xcode.

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