Apple appears to have doubled its headcount in artificial intelligence and related fields since 2014–and more than tripled its number of PhD holders in the sector–as tech companies race to build a generation of smarter products.
That’s one conclusion from an analysis of more than 600 Apple employees who specialize in machine learning, computer vision, natural language processing, and other disciplines related to AI. To help us understand where Apple is getting its AI talent, Fast Company created a database from publicly available LinkedIn profiles, searching for employees who either defined their jobs as “scientist” or “researcher” or listed AI-related skills in their resumes.
This analysis certainly does have some limitations: It won’t account for employees who have defined their jobs in vague terms on their profiles, self-reported inaccurately or incompletely, or have avoided sharing their employment information on LinkedIn entirely. Apple has reportedly discouraged employees from announcing their AI jobs on LinkedIn in the past, so blind spots in our study are inevitable. Still, this analysis provides a broad snapshot of Apple’s response to a growing AI arms race in the tech industry.
Despite widespread fears of a university brain drain as tech companies raid prestigious schools for AI talent, Apple still gets most of its new hires directly from other tech companies. This holds true for both PhD and non-PhD holders. By comparison, university and government hires and hires-by-acquisition represent a much smaller share:
Within the tech sector, it’s not surprising that Amazon and Microsoft appear to be Apple’s top hiring sources. It’s also not surprising that Apple would poach talent from Yahoo and eBay, two formerly mighty tech companies that have been struggling a bit lately. However, Google, Facebook, and Netflix don’t appear in the top 10 hiring sources, according to our analysis:
When Apple has hired from universities, the company hasn’t shown an overwhelming preference for any particular school, or made any dramatic moves akin to Uber’s hiring of 50 Carnegie Mellon robotics researchers–at least, not as far as we can tell. Stanford and the University of California, Berkeley, appear near the top of the list–perhaps because of their geographic proximity to Apple’s HQ in Cupertino–and the prestigious Carnegie Mellon and MIT make obligatory appearances, but otherwise, the origins of Apple’s latest academia hires are well-distributed around the country and overseas:
Those trends hold up when you look at Apple’s entire base of AI talent with PhDs who listed their credential on LinkedIn:
And while acquisitions represent the smallest share of AI hires at Apple, they still seem to be a significant source of new talent for the company.
In 2016, Apple made a major AI talent acquisition by spending $200 million on Turi, a Seattle-based startup that had been helping developers and universities use machine learning for data analysis. Apple acknowledged to Backchannel last year that the acquisition was partly a way to bring on a wealth of AI talent, and the company has also used the acquisition to increase its presence in Seattle, where it has since hired at least one senior Amazon researcher and a senior scientist from Microsoft. (One of these employees notes, on LinkedIn, that he is working on Apple’s new machine-learning framework for developers.)
Other top acquisition-based AI hires for Apple include workers from Metaio, an AR startup whose work may have contributed to Apple’s new ARKit developer tools; Lattice, a startup that tries to extract knowledge from unstructured data; the motion capture and facial recognition firm Faceshift; and VocalQ, a developer of speech-related artificial intelligence.
How does Apple’s AI hiring compare to other tech titans? Chris Bolte, CEO of a salary-tracking firm called Paysa, says Apple is still behind Amazon and Google when it comes to seeking out and paying for new AI talent, based on data from his company’s own resume and salary database. (When we shared Fast Company‘s analysis with Bolte, he said that “nothing looks strange” about our conclusions. Apple declined to comment on this story.)
“The two most aggressive [companies], in terms of open jobs, far and away, have been Google and Amazon, with Amazon leading the pack,” Bolte says of the AI world. “And what was most surprising to us was that Facebook was not a dominant player on that list, nor was Apple.”
In general, Bolte says competition among tech companies for AI talent has been fierce, with skyrocketing salaries and an average of three to four offers from different companies for each prospective employee. For Apple, and for all tech companies, continuing to ramp up new hires may be a challenge.
“There are way more jobs open in AI then there are people available to fill them, at least domestically,” Bolte says.
In other words, it’s a very good time to be an AI genius.