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Apple CEO Tim Cook on the False Tradeoffs in Data Collection, A.I., and Gay Marriage

November 20, 2019, 1:07 AM UTC

Apple CEO Tim Cook believes that one of the biggest “false tradeoffs” that companies make when it comes to artificial intelligence is believing that the more data businesses collect, the better their A.I. technologies will be.

Speaking on Tuesday in San Francisco during Salesforce’s annual Dreamforce conference, Cook discussed with Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff his philosophical views on running a business and the tradeoffs companies typically make in their operations. 

Critics and analysts have previously commented that Apple’s A.I. prowess, typically exemplified by the company’s Siri digital assistant, trails other tech giants like Google and Facebook. One of the reasons analysts believe Apple’s A.I. is lacking is because the company doesn’t collect as much consumer data as its rivals, two of which (Facebook and Google) derive the core of their business via online advertising—a data heavy industry.

“People think you can’t have great A.I. and M.L. (machine learning) unless you have a boat load of data and understand everyone’s personal life,” Cook said. “We don’t subscribe to that—we think that’s a false tradeoff.”

Cook says Apple has attempted to distinguish itself from rivals like Facebook via its stance on personal privacy, calling it a “fundamental human right.” 

The Apple CEO didn’t elaborate on how A.I. systems trained on smaller amounts of data can be as capable as ones trained on enormous amounts of information. Some A.I. experts like Andrew Ng, who spearheaded A.I. projects at Google and Baidu, believe the next frontier of A.I. will involve neural networks that can learn from more limited amounts of data

Cook also remarked about gay marriage and equality, saying that people against gay marriage may often believe that their human rights decrease if other people’s rights increase—another example of a “false tradeoff.” 

“This is so bizarre,” Cook said of that line of thinking.

Cook also took time to make a joke to the audience about Apple rival Google and its Android smartphones, after thanking the crowd for using Apple products.

“If you have an Android, we do recycle those at the Apple Store,” Cook said.