Man and Apple superman: A.I., Apple, and you

Can you drink to forget when the machines remember everything?

Apple, AI, Artificial intelligence, Siri,
C3PO c/o Roger Shultz/Flickr

Who are you? How much of what makes you “you” is defined by memory? How would you change if you had perfect recall? How might artificial intelligence change the way you relate with yourself, and with the world around you?

Siri’s little secret

Siri co-creator, Apple’s Tom Gruber set a few of these questions and made a few A.I. predictions when he spoke during the Our Robotic Overlords segment at a TED Conference.

We already know that Apple’s vision for A.I. isn’t about machine intelligence for the sake of it, but to augment what we do. We also know it has been using machine intelligence since before it became a popular topic to write about.

Gruber explained Apple’s vision as being one in which access to A.I. means humans become superhuman, boosted by superintelligence and enhanced by technological capacity. We can be more with the help of the machines than we can be alone.

Assistive for the people

“We should not be expected to be super human to use technology,” he writes. “If we design products for everyone -- in situations of impairment -- we will create products that are a joy to use all the time.”

He sees the interface as important – to really work it needs to be something we can access in any situation, not matter what else we are doing or our physical condition.

Tesla’s Elon Musk has this in mind. He recently launched a company that will augment your mind with a computer, and he thinks this is just five years away.  "For a meaningful partial brain interface, I think we’re roughly four or five years away,” he said.

But how is Apple applying these principles of “humanistic A.I.”? Gruber dropped a few clues during his talk.

Never forget a face

Gruber spoke about how the machines will store our memories. They will remember the faces and names of everyone we happen to meet. They will also remember personal details about our contacts, such as how to pronounce names, family members, favorite sports and more. They will also recall every song we’ve ever heard and every word we’ve ever read.

"I believe A.I. will make personal memory enhancement a reality. I think it's inevitable," said Gruber.

Apple is already laying the building blocks for this kind of machine intelligence. Face recognition and the Memories features within Sierra’s Photos app show this work in progress.

We know Apple is working to put this kind of facial intelligence within its video apps -- the recently-introduced Clips app is already capable of analyzing the visage of people in your clips to identity them, before recommending you share your clip with those people.


Advances in mind/machine interfaces, voice recognition and production, analytics and data-based prediction mean these smart machines will become ever more useful as communication tools. Think real-time discussion in multiple languages, communication tools for humans suffering from conditions such as cerebral palsy, and more. Not only this, but as machines evolve, you can also imagine the most physically disadvantaged people being able to make use of smart machines to help get physical tasks done.

Getting around

Gruber’s vision extends to navigation, which he explicitly mentioned during his TED Conference speech. You don’t have to look too far in the Apple-verse to identify ways in which the company weaves intelligence into Maps. It’s already possible to tap your AirPods and get directions to specific places, or in response to specific requests. A.I. can only make this process easier, predicting tastes and habits and enabling users to get to what they want. Maps matters.

Gruber also noted the challenge of working with digital devices while driving. Given all the speculation surrounding Apple’s CarPlay plans for connected vehicles, it makes sense to expect A.I. here. Read Apple doesn’t just want to control your car for more ideas.


Communication and augmentation are only part of it. Gruber suggested how A.I. can become an assistive technology to help physically impaired people with their lives.

Gruber also mentioned use of A.I. in cancer detection. Apple and others are developing new sensors and analytics technology that can only improve the capacity for AI to identify symptoms, manage unhealthy habits, recommend positive lifestyle changes and assist in diagnosis and treatment of common conditions.

A major recent study from the American College of Cardiology found that A.I. can accurately predict future heart disease and strokes.

That Apple’s AI chief chose to note cancer detection as one of the potential uses of these technologies helps confirm their importance to Apple’s digital health attempts.

Personal technology assistants

We know Apple is making huge investments to make its Siri assistants much smarter.

Last year’s acquisition of Tuplejump was to help the company’s teams, “develop machine learning solutions to power amazingly intelligent user experiences.”

Carlos Guestrin, Apple’s director of machine learning said last year:

“What’s going to make a major difference in the future, in addition to those things, for me to be emotionally connected to this device, is the intelligence that it has -- how much it understands me, how much it can predict what I need and what I want, and how valuable it is at being a companion to me.”

“We have a choice in how we use this powerful tech. We can use it to compete with us or to collaborate with us -- to overcome our limitations and help us do what we want to do, only better,” Gruber said.

“Every time a machine gets smarter, we get smarter.”

Your relationship with Siri is set to become increasingly personal.

Dangerous machine minds

There are risks. Not only will A.I. usher in profound societal change and impact jobs, but personal data security will become ever more critical.

Gruber says we should be able to control what is and is not recalled by these smart machines. "It's absolutely essential that this be kept very secure,” he said.

His thinking matches that of Chris Schreiner, director of syndicated research, UXIP said in a Strategy Analytics press release, who warns:

"However, permissions need to be granted by the user to offset concerns about privacy and reduce the feeling of the device being too intrusive. This means identifying the threshold for how much is 'too much' in terms of proactive engagement and recommendations. There is an immediate need for settings on frequency, type of action, and data collected."

Cybersecurity pioneer, John McAfee is is alarmed at the negative potential of A.I. Writing in Newsweek, he warns that A.I. will become a self-conscious entity that threatens “the continuation of the human species.”

Ethics is another concern. After all, who will decide the ethical perspective used by these smart machines? Will those who do decide what the machines believe to be right and wrong be the CEOs and executive leaders across the world’s big corporations? If so, then you can look forward to your automated planet representing little more than the aspirations and prejudices of the mainly white, mainly male people who lead those firms.

If Apple -- or anyone else -- decides the ethics of our smart machines, does that also mean the company will decide what is right and what is wrong? Who gave technology firms the right to make decisions like those, and how can we change them if we disagree with them?

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Copyright © 2017 IDG Communications, Inc.

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