John Giannandrea is Apple's senior vice president of Machine Learning and AI Strategy. He joined Apple in 2018 after his 8-year tenure at Google, leaving as head of Machine Learning. Giannandrea was born in Bridge of Allan, Scotland in 1965. His first claim to fame happened while he worked at General Magic, an Apple spin-off in the 90's.
● Senior vice president of Machine Learning
● Former Google head of Machine Learning
● Founded Metaweb in 2005
● Founded TellMe
● CTO at Netscape
● Worked at General Magic in the 90's
● Attended University of Strathclyde
● Born in Bridge of Allan, Scotland
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Not much is known about Apple's AI head, having spent most of his career behind closed doors and making few public appearances. John Giannandrea sparked the early days of machine learning. He began working on a smart assistant during his time at General Magic, a company that had branched from the failing Apple of the 90s.
His passion for pushing machine learning to the next level was a clear indicator that he was needed at Apple.
Apple's SVP of ML
In what was unusually fast, even for Apple, Giannandrea arrived at the company to take a senior executive chair seemingly overnight. He pushed out former Siri lead Bill Stasior and other Siri founders during his internal restructure.
It is believed that Siri is a major target of the new executive, hoping to bring the lagging assistant up to par with the industry.
The former Google executive was vocal about AI, even stating that the term was too loose and undefined, preferring to call it "Machine Intelligence." Prior to his departure at Google, he was leading all of the search team and ML team and was vocal about his excitement surrounding self-driving car technology.
John Giannandrea has a long history in the technology world, and it started right next-door to the Cupertino company.
John Giannandrea's career in Machine Intelligence
The earliest mentions of Giannandrea's career always pin him at General Magic, a company that marked the beginning of many innovations in Silicon Valley that would affect the industry all the way to today. One of the company's fledgling projects that never saw the light of day was an early prototype for a smartphone-like device. A part of this device was going to host a smart assistant, and this was Giannandrea's own project.
While the project never made it to the public, it is clear he was an industry pioneer.
A short time after Netscape's founding in 1994, John Giannandrea joined the company. In an interview with Fortune Magazine, he helped detail the early days as employee number 18 of about 30 at the company's formation.
Netscape was apparently hungry for engineers who had some hand in early web development, snatching up whoever it could. Netscape went on to become a pioneer in internet technology as one of the early consumer browsers. AOL purchased the company in 1999 while Microsoft's Internet Explorer had it on its deathbed.
Not resting on his laurels, he went on to help found Tellme, a "voice portal" telephone service. Using voice recognition software, the technology would connect people with a recorded voice that would read specific stock numbers, weather, or even let your kids talk to Santa Claus.
This is an early example of how machine learning, then a simple answer tree, was going to affect consumers' lives. Microsoft acquired Tellme in 2007, but Giannandrea had already moved on.
In 2005, Metaweb was founded and began work on Freebase, an early predecessor to what now runs websites like Wikipedia. John Giannandrea was brought on as Chief Technology Officer to help with the development of the software.
In 2010 Google acquired Metaweb, thus bringing in Giannandrea into the search engine company. He and the other engineers joined the machine learning team to push Google's own AI initiatives forward.
In 2016, Google merged the search team with the machine learning team and placed Giannandrea in charge of the whole division. He spent two years there spurring the development of Google Assistant and may have even had a hand in the Google self-driving car project.
In 2018, Apple poached the engineer from Google, just when things were looking a bit bleak for Siri, to come in and revitalize the aging assistant. It is yet to be seen exactly what changes will come to the platform as a result of Giannandrea's leadership, but major shifts internally suggest we will see something soon.
Advancements in the Neural Engine and machine learning can be tied back to John Giannandrea since his start at Apple. An interview revealed that he is tied to many products within Apple, as he tries to expand the machine learning efforts everywhere.
When he first arrived, the Apple Pencil handwriting engine was his first target. Now with iPadOS 14 and Scribble, users can write in any text field without issue.
The move from Intel to Apple Silicon also offers more chances to implement machine learning in general Mac operations. With the Neural Engine in the Apple Silicon being even larger and more powerful than what is found in iPads, the machine learning capabilities will be huge.
John Giannandrea expects that the Neural Engine is key in the growth of software platforms and developers will be able to find new ways to implement it within their apps.