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Apple Executive Who Left Over Return-to-Office Policy Joins Google AI Unit

·3-min read
Apple Executive Who Left Over Return-to-Office Policy Joins Google AI Unit

(Bloomberg) -- An Apple Inc. executive who left over the company’s stringent return-to-office policy is joining Alphabet Inc.’s DeepMind unit, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

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Ian Goodfellow, who oversaw machine learning and artificial intelligence at Apple, left the iPhone maker in recent weeks, citing the lack of flexibility in its work policies. The company had been planning to require corporate employees to work from the office on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, starting this month. That deadline was put on hold Tuesday, though.

Goodfellow’s jump to Google is a coup for the DeepMind division, which is bringing him on as an individual contributor, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the hiring isn’t yet public. Goodfellow is known as one of the foremost machine learning researchers, and the move is a reunion of sorts. He worked as a senior researcher at Google until 2019.

DeepMind declined to comment on the hire. Alphabet’s return-to-office policy is generally looser than Apple’s. Though the search-engine giant is also asking employees to come back to the office, it’s approving exemptions for most employees seeking to work from home. Goodfellow hasn’t yet started the new job.

Goodfellow was a director of machine learning within Apple’s Special Projects Group and supervised engineers working on autonomous technology. The director level is one of the most senior at Apple. The company has about 1,000 directors of a total of 170,000 employees -- a figure that includes retail workers.

Read more: Apple workers push back on office return

Goodfellow is the most senior employee known to leave over the company’s return-to-office policy, but more departures are expected as the rules go into effect. For now, though, Apple’s desire to have its employees in offices three days a week is up in the air. The rule, adopted in April, had been slated to go into effect May 23. On Tuesday, Apple told employees that the deadline was delayed for “the time being,” but workers are still expected in the office two days per week.

For months, some Apple employees have complained about the return-to-office drumbeat, saying they’re more productive at home and that remote work saves time and energy that would be spent commuting. Apple was primarily a remote-work company since the beginning of the pandemic in 2020.

“Everything happened with us working from home all day, and now we have to go back to the office, sit in traffic for two hours and hire people to take care of kids at home,” a different former Apple employee told Bloomberg last month. That worker also left, in part, because of the stringent return-to-the-office push.

When Goodfellow departed Apple, he cited the policy in an internal note to staff. The executive is credited with creating GANs, or generative adversarial networks. The networks allow computers to create images or data sets with remarkable accuracy, making research much more effective. They’ve been used in fields as far-flung as video games and astronomy, but most people may be familiar with their use in “deepfake” photos or videos.

DeepMind, widely considered a leading AI research hub, is famous for its software that conquered the game Go. The lab’s research has been used to improve some Google services, like YouTube bandwidth, and has recently moved more into health-care and biology applications, spinning out a new company working on drug discovery.

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