Apple acquires ‘on-device’ AI start-up Xnor

Apple has successfully out-competed major rivals Microsoft, Amazon and Intel to buy a cutting-edge artificial intelligence (AI) start-up – Seattle-based Xnor – for nearly $200m.

Xnor specialises in operating advanced machine learning/AI technologies on ‘edge devices’ – gadgets as diverse as cars, smart home devices and smartphones that function outside of cloud data centres.

Today, the latter handles the lion’s share of AI processing, but Apple appears to be strongly distinguishing itself from Google and Facebook by going for on-device AI, a move that would grant its customers full control of their personal data.

Xnor’s innovative concept is to successfully run complex machine learning models on smart devices in such a way that the typically huge computing resources and power required for such data-intensive operations are obviated.

The company has already deployed its novel approach on ‘smart’ security cameras to impressive effect: the cameras are able to utilise image recognition tech and transmit alerts whenever they ‘see’ a person.

Other Xnor applications currently undergoing development include shelf-monitoring sensors to enable retail stores to manage their inventory more efficiently.

The acquisition coincides with rising regulator concern about the capacity of tech leviathans such as Google and Facebook to deploy their colossal wealth to monopolise emerging technologies.

Apple’s purchase of Xnor expands its presence in Seattle: in 2017, it acquired another Seattle-based AI firm called Turi (also for around $200m), which emerged from the AI Institute founded by the late co-establisher of Microsoft, Paul Allen.

Apple has declined to confirm the Xnor acquisition publicly but issued a statement declaring that it “buys smaller technology companies from time to time”.

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