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Apple Inc. has reportedly shelved its electric-car project and will be moving some of those engineers to work on AI, leading to questions such as how the iPhone maker will incorporate more artificial intelligence into its products, and whether it is creating its own generative AI — i.e., its own version of ChatGPT.

On Tuesday, Bloomberg reported that Apple was scrapping its much-rumored self-driving EV project, called Project Titan, after spending an estimated billions of dollars in R&D over a decade. The Wall Street Journal reported that some employees will be shifted to Apple’s AI efforts, while others working on car hardware will likely face layoffs.

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Chief Executive Tim Cook was not asked about the car project, which the company has never officially confirmed, at its virtual annual meeting Wednesday. But he again alluded to some potential news later this year in the realm of generative AI, while also noting that Apple sees “incredible breakthrough potential for generative AI.”

“Later this year, I look forward to sharing with you the ways we will break new ground in generative AI, another technology we believe can redefine the future,” Cook said Wednesday, according to CNBC.

While some on Wall Street may believe that Apple is standing still in AI, that is not the case. The company has been working on its own version of ChatGPT, according to a report by Bloomberg last summer, dubbed AppleGPT, and building its own framework, called Ajax, for large language models. It has also been testing a generative-AI tool called Ask with some AppleCare support employees, according to MacRumors. Bloomberg also reported that Apple is working on a rival system to Microsoft Corp.’s
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GitHub Copilot for software developers, that would use AI to predict complete blocks of code.

Previously: Apple’s Tim Cook explains why he won’t showboat around AI

Apple never comments on unannounced products. But many reports speculate that the company will have some news about its latest work on AI at its Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) in June. The company is currently viewed on Wall Street as being behind in AI when compared to the rapid product development by Microsoft and Alphabet Inc.’s
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Google. It is worth noting though, that this is how Apple has operated for decades: by watching, waiting and then perfecting existing but early tech products. Whether AI is moving too rapidly for it to catch up, though, could be another potential issue.

Another item high on the list of what Apple might do with AI could be using some of its large language models to improve Siri, its natural-language digital assistant that helps iPhone users make phone calls, get directions and send texts. There have been many rumors of a Siri upgrade in the works.

“The billion or so dollars put into [Project Titan] and what was learned from it will yield greater knowledge about AI that will influence and impact all of their products going forward,” said Tim Bajarin, chairman of Creative Strategies and a longtime Apple watcher, in an email. “AI will reinvent Siri.”

While it seems hard to imagine right now that Apple would put a chatbot fueled by generative AI — which is massively compute- and power-intensive — onto a mobile device, Wedbush Securities analysts believe the upcoming iPhone 16 will incorporate generative AI.

Whether or not such an app would be useful or appeal to iPhone users, or whether it would expand the market, is another big question.

PC and chip makers in the past couple of months have been touting AI on edge devices like the PC. Apple, though, as a privacy-conscious company, might potentially limit its AI systems to using only the data customers have on their own devices,

Bajarin also believes Apple’s AI efforts will have a great impact on the company’s new spatial-computing headset, the Vision Pro, its first major new product in many years, and Apple’s longer-term vision for AR (augmented reality) and spatial computing. Wedbush’s Dan Ives, who believes that the Vision Pro will ultimately shrink in size and be priced at under $1,500, agrees that AI will play a big role in its future.

If Apple is indeed creating its own generative-AI system, will it be better and have fewer errors than OpenAI’s ChatGPT, or Google’s Gemini? Will the company, one that has focused on privacy concerns of its users, have a more ethical approach to AI? By watching and waiting, Apple could emerge with a highly ethical approach to AI, with better products.

How the company deals with and develops these latest AI technologies could be the biggest test of all for Cook’s leadership.

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