CEO Tim Cook said that Apple rejects the idea that any progress in artificial intelligence requires people to give up a “boatload” of personal details, in a thinly-veiled jab at the practices of competitors like Facebook and Google.
Speaking with Salesforce founder and co-CEO Marc Benioff at the Dreamforce conference this Tuesday, Cook reiterated Apple's commitment to privacy even as it continues to develop new products that use machine learning. The Apple CEO framed this as a larger commitment to the company's mission to both improve customer lives and still remain faithful to the company's moral values, rather than treating privacy a “slogan du jour.”
“Some people think you can't do really great AI machine learning unless you have boatload of data and understand everybody's personal life in detail,” Cook said. “We don't subscribe to that; we think that's a false tradeoff.”
It's long been the view of many in the tech industry that companies like Google and Facebook have an edge in the rising market for AI, simply because they have so much user data that they can use to teach their systems.
Cook, however, has previously expressed his scorn for the “industrial” level of data that Google and the like collect on their users, and highlighted that Apple doesn't rely on ads for its business model to work. However, the company's reluctance to collect that much data on its users has sometimes been seen as a hindrance to Apple amid the larger industry push towards artificial intelligence.
Apple's Siri voice assistant, for instance, has been criticized by reviewers for being more limited than the other alternatives on the market. Amazon Alexa and the Google Assistant are both seen as smarter and more capable, not least becuase they tightly integrate with data from each company's own range of products and services.
But the Apple CEO's comments also come at a time when large tech firms are under increasing scrutiny over how they handle consumer data. This November, a federal regulator opened up an inquiry into Google's effort to collect and share private health data with a massive hospital system without informing the millions of Americans involved. Google CEO Sundar Pichai also previously appeared before Congress to answer questions regarding the data Google collects about its users — as well as other topics, such as whether or not Google's search results are biased.
In his conversation with Benioff, Cook pushed back against the idea that it's necessary to collect that kind of data in the name of progress.
“There's a lot of these false choices that are out there, embedded in people's minds,” Cook said. “We try to systematically reject all of those and turn it on its head.”