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Apple poached three dozen Google experts to open a secret AI lab in Zurich

Rumor mill: Apple has allegedly hired numerous AI experts from Google’s human resources roster and opened a secret artificial intelligence lab in Europe. The research and development facility aims to produce new AI-powered products and machine-learning models.

The Financial Times analyzed hundreds of job listings, LinkedIn profiles, and many studies over the last several years and found that Apple has recruited at least 36 AI experts from Google, starting with John Giannandrea in 2018, who now heads up Apple’s AI division as senior vice president of Machine Learning and AI Strategy.

According to ETH Zurich professor Luc Van Gool, Apple opened a new R&D lab in Zurich called “Vision Lab.” The facility employs experts from two local acquisitions – FaceShift and Fashwell. Apple picked up motion-capture company FaceShift in 2015 and acquired Fashwell in 2019. Fashwell specializes in AI-powered visual search.

The teams at Vision Lab have already produced many research papers involving generative AI, heavily focusing on models that use text and imagery input to produce accurate results to queries. For example, a user could ask, “Where can I but this jacket?” and upload or point the camera at the garment, and the model will list several stores that carry the product.

Apple has been so quiet about its ongoing AI research that many think it’s arriving late to the game, as big players like Microsoft, Google, Amazon, and others have already rushed out AI-driven products. In reality, the company has worked secretly on bleeding-edge AI tech for several years, and its hiring in this field has been highly hush-hush.

Apple has two recruitment offices in Zurich. The Financial Times notes that one of the locations is so under the radar that surrounding businesses were completely unaware it was an Apple office. When FT contacted Cupertino for official confirmation of the base of operations, the company declined to comment.

Apple has always been tight-lipped regarding upcoming products – AI is no different. However, recent leaks and rumors point to the Cupertino powerhouse being on the verge of revealing competitive “GenAI” products.

In January, hiring records and on-the-record research indicated that Apple could release at least one AI model in 2024 that will use the M3’s and A17 Pro’s NPUs (neural processing units) to handle AI queries on-device instead of in the cloud. The following month, Tim Cook confirmed the company will launch something GenAI-related in 2024 that would “break new ground,” but was vague on what it was. Then, in March, Mark Gurman discovered that Apple was in talks with Google to launch its Gemini AI on iPhones. It’s not likely that this is the “new ground” that Cook was speaking of, but it shows that Apple is preparing to announce something big in AI this year.

Image credit: Hadrian, DedMityay

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