OpenAI deal for iOS 18 is a red flag and Apple knows it

OPINION: Apple making OpenAI-powered iOS 18 features ‘opt-in’ would acknowledge the giant risk it is taking by hopping into bed with a company Hell bent on winning the AI arms race.

Apple will reportedly seek express consent from iPhone users before it enables the use of third-party generative AI tools in iOS 18. According to a report from Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman, which we detailed earlier this week, some of the new AI features are going to be “opt-in” rather than being pushed to the hilt as must-have new tools for all.

And with good reason.

With Apple’s efforts to reinvigorate and reboot Siri with artificial intelligence remaining behind schedule, by all accounts, the iPhone maker is said to be hopping into bed with OpenAI to fill the void. Perhaps temporarily.

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We’re yet to see how tight the integration will be and what guardrails will be in place. For example, will this be much different to just having ChatGPT as a standalone App Store app? Or will it be OS defining like Copilot in Windows 11?

Those answers should come next week at WWDC. Regardless, it’s no insignificant move to integrate a third-party app of such magnitude into the iOS ecosystem.

Call it a Trojan horse, sleeping with the enemy, the serpent in the garden of Eden, or an idiom of your choosing, it’s reportedly something key Apple figures are cautious of, according to Gurman’s reporting. Some are concerned about letting loose a “rogue chatbot” and others have a “philosophical aversion” to having a third-party chatbot integrated within iOS.

By partnering with the ChatGPT to power some of its new AI features, Apple is aware of the risk it is taking, but apparently feels the need to take it.

It’s competitors, Google, Samsung, Microsoft and the chipmakers like Qualcomm are diving head first into the AI era of smartphones and laptops and it appears there’s no turning back (until the inevitable products for ‘this is grossing me out, how can I avoid it?’ people a few years from now).

Apple has always done things at its own pace and released its big overhauls at a time it feels is appropriate for its customer base. However, the direction of travel is only one way and it may be that Apple (certainly according to Mark Gurman’s reliable inside reporting) doesn’t feel it can be late to this party.

The reported alliance could have huge consequences and they’re far from guaranteed to be positive.

The Scarlett letter

There is much public skepticism and distrust surrounding OpenAI, an intense dislike of ChatGPT’s knack of making entire creative professions redundant, fears of how its LLMs are trained data people have not given permission to be used, how publishers and others are selling out to help with that training, and the security of data once it leaves the device and heads to the cloud.

Beyond what it does, OpenAI itself is no bastion of stability. The messy situation last year when the suits fired CEO Sam Altman who agreed to join Microsoft before it was all sorted out. It doesn’t feel like this is a company on an even footing. For a company that could help to define the future of humanity’s relationship with technology it doesn’t fill us with confidence.

The recent very public controversy over the use of Scalett Johannson’s voice as something that could put people at ease with using AI left many people feeling icky too.

The actress said: “He told me that he felt that by my voicing the system, I could bridge the gap between tech companies and creatives and help consumers to feel comfortable with the seismic shift concerning humans and AI. He said he felt that my voice would be comforting to people.”

It’s no surprise that sort of sentiment is grossing people out. When she said no, Altman went ahead and used someone whose voice resembled hers, to put it kindly.

He doesn’t come out of the situation, which might have been many people’s first time hearing about OpenAI, looking like a trustworthy individual. Instead, he’s drawing comparisons to Miles Dyson – the ambitious programmer of the apocolypse inducing Skynet in Terminator 2 lore.

The fear isn’t just some external moral panic either. Just this week, current and former employees spoke out about the absence of oversight and the serious risks posed by AI and their inability to speak-up openly about them.

In an open letter, the employees said: “AI companies have strong financial incentives to avoid effective oversight, and we do not believe bespoke structures of corporate governance are sufficient to change this.

“We also understand the serious risks posed by these technologies” before saying the companies “currently have only weak obligations to share some of this information with governments, and none with civil society. We do not think they can all be relied upon to share it voluntarily.”

Guilty by association

If OpenAI’s practices boil over into greater controversies, Apple will be considered guilty by association, especially if incidents occur via Apple hardware. As the saying goes, if you lay down with a dog, you can wake up with fleas. This is why Apple is reportedly making these features ‘opt-in’ – to ensure users have actively agreed to use them.

Apple has a hard-earned reputation for putting privacy at the forefront of its technological proposition. It has long stated it is a hardware company and not a data firm and has practices in place to ensure your data is not to be exploited.

This is a very important technological arms race. It’s happening very quickly, with no safety break. Apple, of all companies, making such an accord with OpenAI feels hasty and un-Apple-like.

Apple has continuously integrated third-party tools throughout the iPhone era to fill gaps in products it was either developing, or had no skin in the game. Google Maps, for example, was a built-in staple before Apple Maps. Google Search has been the default provider for Search within Safari for years now. YouTube was once built into iOS too.

Perhaps this wouldn’t be such a worry to me, and others, if Apple was planning integration with Google Gemini, as was also reportedly mulled, rather than OpenAI?

Not that Google is angelic by any means, but there’s a familiarity there for users who might be skeptical and a long and profitable mutual respect and relationship between the two parties that goes beyond the iPhone and Android rivalry. Better the devil you know, perhaps.

We’ll wait to see how this plays out at WWDC and once integrated within in iOS 18, but right now an OpenAI and Apple alliance is a giant red flag.

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