Apple has been all-in on AI for years now, using it to improve your photos, recognize and interpret your voice, lift subjects out of images, and more. But the hottest trend today is with generative AI, as exemplified by services like ChatGPT, Stable Diffusion, DALL-E, Bard, and Microsoft’s new Copilot feature in Office 365, and Apple is largely absent.
There are loads of third-party apps that give access to these generative AI services, but Apple didn’t seem to be interested in creating its own generative AI the way Meta and Google did or partnering to integrate someone else’s tech into its product as Microsoft has done with Open AI.
A new report from Mark Gurman at Bloomberg claims that Apple hasn’t been ignoring this exciting new field of AI at all, it has just been very quiet about it. Generative AI has apparently become a “major effort for Apple” in recent months. The company has built its own framework for training generative AI tools, known as Ajax, and has even used it to train its own chatbot service that some internal engineers have taken to calling “Apple GPT.”
Unsurprisingly, a major focus of Apple’s efforts has been on improving the privacy of these tools. Tim Cook has spoken publicly about his belief that ChatGPT and other generative AI tools are something that the company is “looking at closely,” he has stated that AI tools will be integrated into Apple’s products only on a “very thoughtful basis.” Internally, the report says, Apple has been very worried about missing a potential “paramount shift” in the way we use digital devices, and thus created the Ajax tool and ChatGPT-like chatbot for internal use.
Already, improvements to search, Siri, and Maps have been deployed based on the Ajax system, and the company is now developing a “large language model” similar to Open AI’s GPT-4, Meta’s Llama 2, or Google’s PaLM 2.
Apple’s internal test chatbot, the “Apple GPT” if you will, was reportedly developed late last year by a very small engineering team. After some initial security concerns, the company has made the tool available to more employees, though it requires special approval to access it. The Bloomberg report says that Apple employees claim the tool essentially replicates the experience of Bard, ChatGPT, or Bing AI, without any special novel technologies and is accessed via a stripped-down web interface. This version of “Apple GPT” is only ever meant to be an internal tool, with no public release planned.
While Apple may never release a public “Apple GPT” tool, these revelations are indicative of a big shift within the company. Apple’s AI division, led by John Giannandrea, is working more closely with Craig Federighi’s software division and wants to make a major AI-related announcement next year.
Even without a major new AI product, it’s easy to see how work in this field could be used to make the company’s existing products and services better. These large language models are too big to run on a phone, and Apple has been pushing to do more on your local device for better privacy. But what if you could have a conversation with your HomePod the way you do with ChatGPT? What if Siri could give you answers from the web in a more human, conversational fashion? How can generative AI artwork be used to help creators with Apple products like Logic or Final Cut Pro?
When it comes to generative AI, Apple may be a little late to get started, but it appears that the company is taking the technology very seriously. And in true Apple fashion, it’ll still make a grand entrance once it arrives.