October 1, 2023

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Apple tests ‘Apple GPT,’ develops generative AI tools to catch OpenAI

Apple has been conspicuously absent from the frenzy. Its main artificial intelligence product, the Siri voice assistant, has stagnated in recent years. But the company has made AI headway in other areas, including improvements to photos and search on the iPhone. There’s also a smarter version of auto-correct coming to its mobile devices this year.

Publicly, Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook has been circumspect about the flood of new AI services hitting the market. Though the technology has potential, there are still a “number of issues that need to be sorted,” he said during a conference call in May. Apple will be adding AI to more of its products, he said, but on a “very thoughtful basis.”

In an interview with Good Morning America, meanwhile, Cook said he uses ChatGPT and that it’s something that the company is “looking at closely.”

Behind the scenes, Apple has grown concerned about missing a potentially paramount shift in how devices operate. Generative AI promises to transform how people interact with phones, computers and other technology. And Apple’s devices, which produced revenue of nearly $320 billion in the last fiscal year, could suffer if the company doesn’t keep up with AI advances.

That’s why Apple began laying the foundation for AI services with the Ajax framework, as well as a ChatGPT-like tool for use internally. Ajax was first created last year to unify machine learning development at Apple, according to the people familiar with the effort.

The company has already deployed AI-related improvements to search, Siri and maps based on that system. And Ajax is now being used to create large language models and serve as the foundation for the internal ChatGPT-style tool, the people said.

The chatbot app was created as an experiment at the end of last year by a tiny engineering team. Its rollout within Apple was initially halted over security concerns about generative AI, but has since been extended to more employees. Still, the system requires special approval for access. There’s also a significant caveat: Any output from it can’t be used to develop features bound for customers.

Even so, Apple employees are using it to assist with product prototyping. It also summarizes text and answers questions based on data it has been trained with.

Apple isn’t the only one taking this approach. Samsung Electronics Co. and other technology companies have developed their own internal ChatGPT-like tools after concerns emerged about third-party services leaking sensitive data.


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