Apple shut down AI Team in San Diego, Sparks Concerns for 121 employees

In an unexpected move, Apple has decided to disband its Data Operations Annotations team, a group of 121 employees based in San Diego dedicated to advancing the company’s artificial intelligence (AI) initiatives.


The team, primarily responsible for enhancing Siri through voice service queries, has been instructed to relocate to Austin and integrate with the Texas branch of the same team.


Initially composed of contractors handling Siri queries, the team transitioned to full-time employees in 2019 after making the listening practice optional for customers.


The team based in San Diego concentrated on various languages, encompassing Hebrew, English, diverse Spanish dialects, Portuguese, Arabic, and French. The relocation announcement came from a high-ranking deputy to Apple’s AI chief, John Giannandrea, as reported by Bloomberg and later confirmed by Apple.


A spokesperson for Apple clarified that the decision is aimed at consolidating its “Data Operations Annotations teams in the US together at our campus in Austin, where a majority of the team is already based.” 


The spokesperson assured all current employees could continue their roles with Apple in Austin. However, employees in San Diego must decide on relocation by the end of February, with those opting against it facing termination on April 26.


Despite Apple’s commitment to San Diego, where the company has experienced significant growth, the Austin AI team’s consolidation has caught many employees off guard.


Initial indications suggested a move to a new Apple campus in the region by the end of January, but instead, they now face relocation to Texas.


Many affected workers are reluctant to move to Austin, citing concerns about their eligibility for roles due to a lack of engineering backgrounds. 


Apple has communicated to employees about the option to apply for other positions, but details regarding future employment prospects remain unclear.


To facilitate the transition, Apple is offering a $7,000 relocation stipend to employees who choose to move to Austin by the end of June.


Those declining the offer will witness the elimination of their roles, receiving severance pay based on their length of service and six months of health insurance.


While other tech companies grappled with layoffs during the pandemic, Apple had primarily avoided them until now.


Last April, certain positions in corporate retail and recruiting roles were eliminated. Still, the recent decision regarding the AI team could lead to the departure of some employees from the tech giant.


The move raises questions about Apple’s future AI endeavours and the impact on its workforce in the evolving landscape of artificial intelligence.


Meanwhile, apple’s website still shows a Machine Learning and AI careers page.