Apple is rumoured to have acquired privacy-focused AI startup Silk Labs, according to a Tuesday report from The Information. While the move may seem like just another example of big tech snapping up the hottest AI startup, beneath the surface, it signals something deeper:
The competition among tech giants over AI isn’t just an arms race —it’s a battle of philosophies.
On one side, companies like Google—despite taking PR hits over user privacy concerns—are focused on providing the most ubiquitous, accessible AI-powered services. Their bet: Ease of use and accessibility will outweigh consumer privacy concerns. Others, like Apple, take the opposite stance, betting a strong focus on privacy will continue to be a differentiating factor for consumers.
Apple’s acquisition of Silk Labs further signals the tech giant’s privacy-first philosophy. Launched on Kickstarter in 2016, Silk’s first product, the Sense smart-home assistant, was built on AI technology that ran locally on users’ devices. Sense never made it to market, but its underlying technology reflects the same privacy-centric philosophy that guides Apple’s approach.
Google’s most recent AI acquisitions, on the other hand, reflect a different focus. Two of them, Onward and Dialog flow, are cloud-based services using natural language processing to communicate with customers at scale. Google’s goals with AI seems to be in keeping with its broader business strategy—focus first on building the easiest-to-use ecosystem, rather than the most privacy-centric.
It isn’t clear if users will ultimately prefer Apple’s or Google’s approach. A 2017 study by Deloitte found that, while the majority of Americans are still uncomfortable sharing their browsing and social media activity with companies, the number of Americans who say they don’t mind doing so doubled from 2014 to 2016.
Ultimately, the competition for AI dominance among tech giants might not be decided by whose technology is the most powerful. It could come down to whose philosophy resonates most with users.