Culture

Apple poaches another ex-Googler for its AI team

Samy Bengio left Google after 14 years at the forefront of the company's AI research efforts. Now he'll bring that experience to Apple's team.

Tech journalists gather at the Steve Jobs Theater before the first-ever product launch at the new Apple Campus in Cupertino on Tuesday.   (Seung Lee/Bay Area News Group) (Photo by MediaNews Group/Bay Area News via Getty Images)
MediaNews Group/Bay Area News via Getty Images/MediaNews Group/Getty Images

Apple has hired ex-Googler Samy Bengio to head a new artificial intelligence research unit at the company, according to a report from Reuters. Bengio was one of many Google employees to leave the company following the firing of two of the company’s leading AI ethics researchers.

“Just wanted to say that I was stunned by what just happened to Timnit Gebru,” Bengio wrote in a December statement posted to Facebook. “I also stand by the rest of my team who, like me, was stunned and is trying to make sense of all this.”

Bengio spent 14 years at Google before leaving the company last week. Bengio was a major player at Google: He worked on the Google Brain research team, advancing the deep learning algorithms used by many of Google’s AI systems today.

He’ll now work directly under John Giannandrea, Apple’s VP of machine learning and AI strategy. Google’s loss is definitely Apple’s gain here.

The mess at Google AI — Given Bengio’s willingness to stand behind Gebru and the rest of the Google Brain team, it was really only a matter of time before he left Google entirely. The mess behind the now-infamous axing of Gebru — and, later, lead Magaret Mitchell — is complex, steeped heavily in internal politics, and rooted in Google’s general refusal to change.

Rather than putting in the work of unraveling that tangle, Google put executive engineer Marian Croak at the helm of the Responsible AI Research and Engineering Center of Expertise team. Bloomberg reports that this reorganization greatly diminished Bengio’s management role on the team.

Apple AI up and coming — Samy Bengio isn’t exactly a household name, but he’s been integral to Google’s AI research efforts as they’ve been built from the ground up in the last decade-and-a-half. Google’s AI team has made incredible breakthroughs in both practical and creative applications.

Apple’s own AI research ambitions have long lagged behind Google’s, but the iPhone-maker is finally putting resources behind closing that gap. Many of the employees that brought Google to the forefront of AI research are now working at Apple, including John Giannandrea, who himself led Google’s Search and AI teams for many years.

We’re not quite sure yet what projects Bengio will be working on at Apple — both he and the company have been pretty quiet about the hire — but he’ll certainly add unique talent to Apple’s fast-growing AI team. Poaching ex-Googlers is really working out for Apple. We’re excited to see what the newly expanded team has in store.