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The week in AI: Apple announces AI features in new iPhone, Musk drops OpenAI lawsuit


It's been a busy week in the world of artificial intelligence. Apple entered the race, previewing a whole slate of AI features for its new iPhone. There was also drama. Elon Musk dropped his lawsuit against ChatGPT maker OpenAI. Musk also criticized Apple for announcing a partnership with OpenAI. There's a lot to get into here, and NPR tech correspondent Bobby Allyn joins us to sort it all out. Hey there, Bobby.


KURTZLEBEN: So Apple held its developers conference earlier this week and made a big splash with all those AI announcements. So is this their big AI plunge?

ALLYN: Yes, it is their big AI plunge. And the impression in Silicon Valley was it has taken a long time, right? Before this week, OpenAI, Microsoft, Google have really driven the AI conversation. Apple was sort of considered a laggard when it came to AI. But this is really just the Apple way, right? They operate slowly, kind of on their own timetable, and they rarely talk about products before they're released into the world. And that's exactly how John Gruber sees it, too. He has been writing about Apple for more than two decades.

JOHN GRUBER: They are very secretive, and they do not like to talk about what they are going to do. They only talk about what they have done. And very hard to say whether, you know, they've been behind when they've been doing it, effectively, behind a curtain.

KURTZLEBEN: Well, it sounds like we'll find out, but, Bobby, maybe take us behind that curtain right now. How might an AI-powered iPhone work?

ALLYN: Yeah, well, the centerpiece, Danielle, is what they're calling Apple Intelligence. And it's not lost on us, Apple, that they're kind of rebranding AI here, right? Very Apple of them to do that. Yeah, but the new iPhone's going to have, you know, AI writing tools to help you rewrite and proof read all your texts and emails. Even when you're taking notes, it will help you process those notes with AI. You can now create custom AI images when you're texting with your mom or your friends. Siri also has all these cool, new fancy AI features. You can say, hey, Siri, you know, send a beach photo from last week to my mom, or hey, why don't you play that podcast that Danielle recommended to me yesterday, and Siri will do these things. So Siri can now do a lot more than it used to.

KURTZLEBEN: OK, so it sounds like a lot of little changes altogether. What do those amount to? What's the big picture?

ALLYN: Yeah. You know, all these changes point to a shift in the way people use their phones. Apple here is betting that more and more people will stop using apps, and instead tell Siri to do things for them - book flights, order an Uber, make dinner reservations, you know, make connections between your texts and your apps. And Apple thinks this represents a big change in how we all navigate our lives on our phones.

KURTZLEBEN: Well, OK, that's Apple. ChatGPT maker, OpenAI, though, was also in the news quite a bit this week. What's going on with them?

ALLYN: Yeah. Well, the Apple news involved OpenAI a bit. Part of Apple's retooled operating system includes the ability to ask ChatGPT questions. So that will obviously be a big boost to OpenAI now that some billion people around the world with iPhones will have access to ChatGPT, but, you know, it also caused an uproar in some corners. And the corner I am talking about is Elon Musk's corner.

KURTZLEBEN: All right. So what was Musk so upset about?

ALLYN: Yeah. Musk claimed Apple is going to turn everyone's data over to OpenAI and suggested that it was a privacy risk. Now, Apple denies this, of course, and says, IP addresses will be obscured, and individual ChatGPT requests will not be saved in any way. But Musk says he would ban Apple devices from all of his companies if ChatGPT becomes an integral part of iPhones. And that, Danielle, is quite a big claim, considering Musk has tens of thousands of employees across SpaceX, Tesla, X and his other operations, and many were skeptical that he would ever do this, so we'll just see if that ever happens.

KURTZLEBEN: Speaking of Musk versus OpenAI, he dropped a lawsuit against the company this week, right?

ALLYN: Yeah, he did. So Musk, as a reminder, was an original co-founder of OpenAI, but he has been at odds with the company since he left many years ago, and his lawsuit was claiming that OpenAI abandoned its founding mission to become this sort of AI research lab and has been putting profits over everything else. And a day before the suit was supposed to come up for a hearing, his lawyers dropped it. Nobody is explaining why. But I think the whole saga shows that the battle over who is going to win the AI future is gonna be a long and ugly fight.

KURTZLEBEN: That's NPR's Bobby Allyn. Thanks so much.

ALLYN: Thanks.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Bobby Allyn is a business reporter at NPR based in San Francisco. He covers technology and how Silicon Valley's largest companies are transforming how we live and reshaping society.
Danielle Kurtzleben is a political correspondent assigned to NPR's Washington Desk. She appears on NPR shows, writes for the web, and is a regular on The NPR Politics Podcast. She is covering the 2020 presidential election, with particular focuses on on economic policy and gender politics.