Policy of Secrecy Hobbles Apple’s AI Program

The November 2, 2015 Issue of Bloomberg Businessweek has an article entitled “Apple’s Deep Learning Curve” that discuss the harmful effects of the company’s policy of secrecy around its research into artificial intelligence technology. According to the article, Apple employees working on artificial intelligence aren’t allowed to speak at industry conferences, publish research papers, or even tell others that they are working on artificial intelligence at Apple. They are also told to lock their office doors whenever they aren’t at their desks. They article indicated teams inside Apple aren’t even allowed to know what artificial intelligence projects are being worked on. Why so much secrecy around artificial intelligence at Apple? The article says  Apple is following its traditional playbook, but this time the results won’t work out as well for the company. How is the secrecy hurting Apple?

The article indicates the extreme secrecy alienates the industry’s most important professionals and also turns off talented students that are about to start working in the field. If you are involved in artificial intelligence and you go to work for Apple, you lose the ability to publish articles and otherwise maintain a footprint in the artificial intelligence community. This has made it difficult for the company to recruit experts from a relatively small talent pool.

There are some interesting lessons for business in this story. I can certainly understand why you might not want to reveal your entire corporate strategy to your competitors, but in many areas of business, including cutting edge technology, you often benefit from more open collaboration, not less. That is the entire concept explored in the book Wikinomics. If you haven’t read it, I encourage you to do so.

In related news, Apple has also recently acquired two (2) existing artificial intelligence companies.