Apple has made another eyebrow-raising startup acquisition. Having just acquired voice-focused AI startup VocalIQ, presumably to help it refine its Siri mobile virtual assistant, Apple has now bought a company called Perceptio.
The startup has developed a deep learning AI system designed for image recognition, with a focus on facial recognition. To what end? That isn’t clear; it’s possible that such AI capabilities could serve some kind of purpose in Siri, allowing the virtual assistant to identify objects or people for the user, and that would make sense in terms of the acquisiton’s timing, following so closely on the heels of the VocalIQ purchase. But that’s mere speculation, and as usual Apple is not discussing the acquisition any further than acknowledging that it has occurred; moreover, Facebook has recently run into some legal trouble over its own integration of facial recognition technology, so there’s reason to be skeptical about Apple going down a similar path.
One other way in which the acquisition lines up with recent Apple positioning is on privacy. The system developed by Perceptio is said to minimize its reliance on user data in its main function of identifying images. That accords with Apple CEO Tim Cook’s recent assertion in an interview that privacy is “a fundamental human right,” and his general emphasis on user privacy in that discussion. As more and more sensitive user data goes online, Apple may be positioning itself as a user privacy leader, and the Perceptio acquisition may have more to do with how the startup’s system sorts through data than what it’s doing with it.