Apple Picks Up Former Google A.I. Researcher Following Controversy

Apple continues to hire senior technologists who could make a big difference in its artificial intelligence (A.I.) ambitions.

The latest hire is Samy Bengio, previously a distinguished scientist at Google. According to Reuters, Bengio will lead a new A.I. research unit at Apple, where he’ll join John Giannandrea, another Google veteran. Bengio is best known for his work on deep-learning algorithms, which helped set the foundation for Google Brain, the search-engine giant’s A.I. research team. 

Bengio’s departure comes as Google’s A.I. division finds itself mired in controversy, which began in December 2020 when Google A.I. ethics researcher Timnit Gebru, co-lead of Google’s Ethical Artificial Intelligence Team, claimed that Google’s management wanted her to take her name off a paper that pointed out how a large-scale A.I. language model (LLM) can generate biased results. When she refused, she claimed, Google fired her. Protests erupted, with other Google employees claiming that the company refused to deal with internal issues around bias and discrimination. 

When Bengio announced his resignation from Google in April, it was widely viewed as part of the fallout over Gebru’s departure. At the time, The Verge described Bengio as a “strong advocate” of Gebru and Margaret Mitchell, a Google researcher terminated for allegedly scanning emails to find evidence of discrimination against Gebru. Bengio’s departure message reportedly didn’t mention Mitchell or Gebru, but he expressed solidarity with the latter in the past.

According to Burning Glass, which collects and analyzes millions of job postings from across the country, Apple has spent the past few years hiring for a range of skills associated with A.I., including machine learning and Python (the language used in quite a bit of data analytics and A.I. work). Although the company was one of the first to launch a mainstream A.I. product, Siri, it was quickly eclipsed by Amazon’s Alexa and (to a certain extent) Google’s voice-activated assistant.

But Apple doesn’t just need A.I. experts to make Siri a better product. The company is pushing aggressively into cloud-based applications and services that need optimized algorithms to function effectively. Experts such as Bengio can make quite a difference in that quest. Google’s loss, in other words, could end up being Apple’s gain.