Apple expanding Seattle offices focused on AI and machine learning, strengthening ties to UW for talent search

Apple is known for its secrecy when it comes to ongoing product development, but the company is operating a little different with its efforts around artificial intelligence and machine learning. Apple’s director of machine learning, Carlos Guestrin, openly discussed Apple’s plans to grow its engineering presence in Seattle in a new GeekWire interview.

Guestrin joined Apple through the company’s acquisition of AI firm Turi last fall, and now the University of Washington is naming a $1 million professorship after him to help discover and support new talent in the machine learning field:

A new $1 million endowed professorship, made possible by Apple’s acquisition of Seattle-based machine learning startup Turi last year, will give the University of Washington Computer Science & Engineering department a chance to attract more top talent in the field of machine learning and artificial intelligence.

Guestrin spoke with GeekWire about the professorship:

In an interview at Apple’s downtown Seattle engineering office, Guestrin said it was important to him and the Turi team to support the University of Washington’s computer science and engineering program, allotting the funding as part of the acquisition process.

“It’s another way to foster the university’s development,” Guestrin said. “At Apple, we’re really excited to collaborate with the UW, and leverage the great talent pool and energy around the city.”

In a separate report that includes even more from Guestrin, GeekWire says Apple is further expanding its footprint in Seattle as it focuses on AI and ML at the satellite office space:

Guestrin spoke with GeekWire at Apple’s engineering center in the Two Union Square skyscraper, where the company currently leases two floors and has committed to take additional floors to accommodate its expansion plans. Apple declined to specify the size of the expansion, but sources say a lease should be finalized soon.

9to5Mac reported last fall that Apple is using the Turi acquisition as a dedicated machine learning division as a way to build future product features based on AI. In the new interview, Apple’s ML director says his group is working on both long-term research and near-term features:

Guestrin said the group is doing long-term research, looking ahead three to 10 years, but also focusing on the near-term, developing new features for upcoming Apple products. “We work on the whole spectrum,” he said. “It’s not just about doing research, but it’s about the technology transfer and how that gets embedded into experiences that customers love.”

The full interview is loaded with discussion around Apple’s efforts with AI and ML and is worth a read.

Back in December, the first AI research paper from Apple was published online which was a significant event for the company. Apple’s openness to discuss its involvement in the field has been necessary to attract talent that otherwise is accustomed to publishing research regularly.

Interviews like the one top Apple execs gave last fall around machine learning and artificial intelligence also counter the narrative that Apple is behind in AI and ML compared to similar efforts from Amazon and Google.

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