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Apple’s Deep Learning Curve

The company’s secrecy is hurting its AI software development.

In the world of artificial intelligence, one of the year’s biggest coming-out parties is the Neural Information Processing Systems conference. Thousands of researchers from universities and software companies gather to share their work and wrestle with new ways to tailor software to people’s habits. At last year’s conference in Montreal, employees of Google, Microsoft, and IBM presented papers on teaching computers to work faster and smarter, such as by reading the house numbers in a photo to determine an address. But one player was conspicuously absent: Apple. This year, Chinese search giant Baidu and Facebook, along with Google and Microsoft, are slated to present papers. Apple isn’t.

Apple researchers attended the Montreal conference last year but kept a low profile and didn’t say who they worked for unless asked, says Yoshua Bengio, an AI pioneer and professor of computer science at the University of Montreal. This is typical of the company’s appearances at the field’s big AI conferences, say Bengio and other prominent researchers. “Apple is off the scale in terms of secrecy,” says Richard Zemel, a professor in the computer science department at the University of Toronto. “They’re completely out of the loop.” Apple declined to comment for this story.