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Can Apple Intelligence break the pattern of half-baked AI?

Can Apple Intelligence break the pattern of half-baked AI?


Apple on Monday outlined how its new artificial intelligence features will let you ask a revamped Siri to play the latest episode of your favorite podcast, rewrite a hard-to-read message using the Mail app on your Mac, and even let AI generate customized images for group chats.

It all sounded useful and fun in theory, but two realities kept me thinking: it's hard to trust any AI feature that Apple executives didn't explain in pre-recorded videos, demonstrate live, or let a bunch of journalists try out.

First, other companies like Google, Amazon, and Microsoft boast similarly useful AI features that don't quite work as well as hoped, and second, Apple has a shaky track record in AI, having shoved the dumb Siri around for over a decade.

If 2023 was the year that AI mania boomed, 2024 is sure to be the year that proves it.

Too many companies have promised magical, useful AI, but in reality, much of it hastily built and barely functional, not very helpful, insecure, or error-prone — like Google's new AI-powered search that offers to eat glue — is a waste of time, energy, and trust in new forms of AI.

Apple's new AI-powered features may be great, but most people won't be able to take advantage of the Apple AI features until after September, and you may have to buy a new iPhone to use them.

What Apple's AI demo showed (and didn't show)

Apple outlined two layers of AI that will be built into the new iPhones, Macs and iPads: its own AI and OpenAI's ChatGPT AI, which will take over for tasks that Siri and Apple's apps can't handle.

For instance, Apple indicated that if you need AI help to write a customized bedtime story for your child, your phone may ask for your permission to share a prompt written ChatGPT.

But I didn't see why it wouldn't be easier to just use the ChatGPT app or website to generate bedtime stories (either Apple's own AI isn't up to the task yet, or Apple didn't want to risk its AI ruining children's stories).

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Apple also lowered the bar for itself by not promising an all-around AI assistant that can take the steps out of planning a vacation or ordering groceries.

No company's AI can do this, not even the all-encompassing AI assistants from Microsoft, Google, or OpenAI (which can't even look in all the places the relevant information lives, like your Gmail messages, Excel spreadsheets, and Expedia travel invoices).

Instead, Apple said its AI will make what it already does in its own apps, and in future in other companies' apps, smarter and easier.

Some of the features Apple introduced, such as AI-assisted writing and AI to edit objects from photos, are now standard features from Google, Microsoft and Samsung.

Even with the low bar, it's not clear that Apple, the company behind Siri, the clunky iTunes that even its highest executives derided, botched self-driving car software, and an autocorrect feature that thinks you've made a typo, is capable of building a robust, flawless AI.

A pattern of over-promising and under-delivering

Many AIs promise magical things, but in reality they are deeply flawed or primarily useful for only a few tasks.

We don’t blame people who don’t regularly use new forms of AI (which is most people): a recent survey by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism found that only around 7 percent of Americans use ChatGPT daily.

OpenAI introduced a more conversational version of its chatbot in May, but it didn't have most of the features the company described. Google scaled back both its AI image generation capabilities and its AI-powered search results after high-profile missteps this year. Meta AI is a bit of a goof. Amazon unveiled an error-prone, AI-upgraded version of Alexa last year, but it's yet to be released. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

These missteps aren't Apple's fault, and the company is typically cautious about releasing products before they're polished.

But the brilliance of Apple's AI comes at a time when the company and other companies are under immense pressure to demonstrate their AI expertise to investors, employees and business partners. It's hard to know whether the AI ​​is truly built for you, or primarily for the company's benefit.




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