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Apple hires CMU AI guru Russ Salakhutdinov to lure over more talent

Associate prof will have opportunity to explain 'publish or perish' to secretive company

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Apple has hired Russ Salakhutdinov, an associate professor in the deep learning department at Carnegie Mellon University, to oversee its AI research and improve relations with academia.

Salakhutdinov says he is excited to join Apple as a director of AI research, even as he continues his work at CMU. He also extended an invitation to other researchers to join his team.

The Register understands that since the summer Salakhutdinov has been working with Apple on a part-time basis – one day a week, essentially – as part of an effort to improve the company's relationship with academia.

Last year, Bloomberg reported that Apple's culture of secrecy made it harder for the company to recruit technical talent from academic institutions, where the publication of research and the sharing of information is critical for professional recognition and advancement.

At the time, Apple researchers had not published a single academic research paper on AI. Meanwhile, the iThing maker had 42 open positions that mentioned artificial intelligence on its job website and 120 that mentioned machine learning. Presently, Apple has 56 open positions that list artificial intelligence and 129 that include machine learning.

Technology companies like Apple, Google, IBM, Intel, and Salesforce have been buying up AI startups at a rapid pace in an effort to integrate AI-related technology – machine learning, computer vision, and the like – into products and services.

Apple this year acquired machine learning companies Turi and Tuplejump. Its 2010 acquisition of Siri remains its highest-profile investment in AI. And its recently curtailed self-driving car initiative, Project Titan, also depends upon AI.

According to research firm CB Insights, there have been 140 acquisitions of AI-oriented startups since 2011.

Apple, however, has not been active in releasing AI-related software. While Baidu, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft have released projects like Warp-CTC, FBLearner Flow, TensorFlow, and CNTK – releases that mix altruism with cloud business lead generation – Apple has kept its AI technology to itself.

Late last month, Amazon, Google, Facebook, IBM, and Microsoft announced the formation of the Partnership on Artificial Intelligence to Benefit People and Society, a group that aims to benefit businesses investing in AI by influencing the development and regulation of cognitive technology. Apple remains conspicuously absent from this group.

Apple's decision to open source the Swift programming language last year suggests the company isn't entirely hermetic. Asked about this, Apple did not respond to a request for comment. ®

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