Google hires designer behind Apple’s mobile chips

Google wasn’t shy about targeting its Pixel phones at iPhone users (it even helped them migrate), and now that similarity could extend to the processors under the hood. Variety has discovered that Google recently hired Manu Gulati, a key chip designer at Apple, to become its lead system-on-chip architect. While Gulati’s LinkedIn profile doesn’t say much about what he’s doing, sources claim that Google hired him with the goal of designing its own CPUs for Pixel phones. It’s looking for more chip experts, too, and has posted job listings or a “mobile SoC CPU architect” and similar roles.

We’ve reached out to Google for comment and will let you know if it can elaborate on the hire.

It’s not completely shocking that Google would go this route: there were rumblings in 2016 about Pixel phones eventually adopting custom processors. The big concern is whether or not it’s practical. Apple, Huawei and Samsung can all justify in-house CPUs because they sell many millions of devices every quarter. Google hasn’t divulged Pixel sales, but it’s safe to say they’re nowhere near as large as more established rivals with wider availability and bigger marketing budgets. If Variety is accurate, Google is betting either on the Pixel line’s continued growth or is willing to take the likely financial hit that comes with making chips in smaller batches.

The custom chip strategy could also make Google’s Android partners nervous. They’ve had to accept Google as a hardware competitor for years, to varying degrees, but they’ve also known that Nexus and Pixel phones were using off-the-shelf chips that reduced their ability to stand out. If Google can give itself a performance advantage through custom processors, that would change the game. The Pixel line would have an edge over the sea of Snapdragon-based phones on the market, and it might fare better against Huawei and Samsung phones. Apple wouldn’t have as much to worry about (it’s the only choice for iOS, after all), but it might sweat a bit if Google can brag about its hardware brawn.

Source: Variety, LinkedIn

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Apple hires a Carnegie Mellon professor to improve its AI

Apple isn’t letting Samsung’s acquisition of Viv go unanswered. The Cupertino crew has hired Russ Salakhutdinov, a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University, as a director of artificial intelligence research. Interestingly, he isn’t giving up his school work — he may well be publishing research at the same time as he’s upgrading your iPhone or Mac. It’s not certain what he’ll be working on, although Recode observes that his recent studies have involved understanding the context behind questions. We’ve asked Apple if it can comment.

The hire could make a big difference for Siri, which has been criticized for evolving relatively little compared to services like Google Assistant. The AI helper may develop a better understanding of what you’re asking, and could be better at handling less-than-explicit or follow-up questions. However, Apple’s use of AI isn’t limited just to voice commands. Remember how iOS 10 uses machine learning for object and face recognition in its Photos app? You could see Salakhutdinov’s influence across many products, giving weight to Apple’s claims that it considers AI a key part of its future.

Carnegie Mellon might not be entirely happy. Uber spent a while poaching from the school’s robotics lab, and now the university has to worry about Apple luring top talent. While that may not be such a bad thing if it leads to more practical applications for AI, it may limit academic studies in the near future.

Source: Russ Salakhutdinov (Twitter)

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