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Apple has hired a big brain in AI to make Siri less dumb

Carnegie Mellon researcher Russ Salakhutdinov will remain a professor in addition to his work at Apple.

The Real Brain Exhibit @Bristol Science Centre Matt Cardy / Getty Images

Apple has hired a Carnegie Mellon University professor to head up a team working on artificial intelligence as tech giants increasingly place big bets on machine learning as a key part of their future.

Russ Salakhutdinov said he is looking to hire more research scientists in the field to work on his team at Apple. He will continue his work at Carnegie Mellon in addition to his new role at Apple.

The move comes as Apple’s Siri has been criticized for having fallen behind other automated assistants, such as Amazon’s Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana, while Google is also betting big on its Google Assistant.

Apple has also made several acquisitions related to machine learning, including Seattle-based Turi, which sold for a reported $200 million.

Salakhutdinov’s recent research (PDF) has included work on how to better derive the context behind the questions people pose.

Jack Clark, a former reporter who works at nonprofit artificial intelligence research firm OpenAI, called the hire a “huge get” for Apple.

“Russ does amazing research,” Clark said on Twitter. At the same time, he questioned what Salakhutdinov’s dual role at Apple and Carnegie Mellon will mean for his research.

“Does this mean Apple will publish papers now?” he asked. “Otherwise, their gain is the world's loss.”

We’ve reached out to Apple and Salakhutdinov, but have yet to hear back.

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