Tech giant Apple is buying a specialist AI company called Xnor.ai out of Seattle. Buying AI assets would not usually be particularly newsworthy but Xnor essentially brings AI to the ‘edge’ and specifically to the device.
The news was met with mixed reviews.
Some observers believe it is the start of a trend in AI, to bring intelligence to what are, essentially, dumb devices. While it will not change the world overnight, bringing intelligence to the device itself, presumably smartphones and whatever smart AR and home devices that Apple has up its sleeve, makes a lot of sense.
If your personal device can begin to learn behaviour and make intelligent decisions – think facial recognition for example – then that has huge potential to take devices to the next level and make them truly personal.
However, some believe that Apple is heading in the wrong direction with this move. Richard Windsor, for example, believes that taking intelligence (Siri) to individual devices will fragment and therefore dilute Apple’s AI strategy. His belief is that Siri is already suffering this fate and this move will drag Apple backwards in this particular race.
It is always easy to criticise big tech companies about their acquisitions but Apple and others have a habit of buying something, going very quiet and then producing a rabbit out of the hat in a few years’ time that makes you think ‘ah, now I get it’.
While we try and second guess the reasons behind Apple’s purchase, the overall idea of pushing intelligence to the edge does fit in well with an overarching trend, as telecoms networks are pushing, well, almost everything to the edge of their networks.
Whatever the reasons and whatever appears in two or three years’ time, one thing is pretty certain.
Once a big player like Apple decides to make relatively big gambles on specialist AI companies, it will not the last acquisition we see this year as the AI wars heat up.