Apple reportedly shuts down San Diego AI team

According to media reports, tech behemoth Apple has decided to relocate its Data Operations Annotations team from San Diego to Austin, Texas. Comprising 121 employees, this team played a pivotal role in fine-tuning Siri’s performance by scrutinizing voice service queries.

Apple’s relocation strategy involves merging the San Diego-based Data Operations Annotations team with its Austin counterpart. Employees expressing willingness to relocate by June will retain their roles within Apple, while those opting against the move face potential termination on April 26. This move aligns with Apple’s broader initiative to consolidate its Data Operations Annotations teams within the US, with a specific focus on the existing Austin campus.

According to reports, this announcement took many employees by surprise, contradicting earlier indications that hinted at a move to another San Diego campus by January’s end. This abrupt decision has raised concerns about Apple’s communication transparency. Some employees, uncertain about their eligibility for alternative roles within Apple, are hesitant about making a significant cross-country move, leading to a situation resembling involuntary layoffs.

In response to inquiries, Apple affirmed the relocation decision and reiterated its commitment to San Diego’s growth. The spokesperson clarified that the move aimed to bring Data Operations Annotations teams together in Austin, where a majority already operates. While Apple assured that non-relocating employees could continue their roles, details about these roles remain elusive. “We’re bringing our Data Operations Annotations teams in the US together at our campus in Austin, where a majority of the team is already based,” a spokesperson for Apple said. “Everyone currently employed will have the opportunity to continue their role with Apple in Austin. We are deeply committed to San Diego where we have grown significantly, and are continuing to hire as we expand our world-class engineering teams.”

To ease the relocation process, Apple has outlined support measures. Those moving to Austin will receive a stipend of $7,000. Non-relocating employees are entitled to four weeks of severance pay, augmented by an additional week for each year worked, along with six months of health insurance. These measures seek to mitigate the impact of relocation, though employee willingness to uproot remains a critical factor.

Apple’s AI capabilities, particularly in digital assistants like Siri, have faced scrutiny compared to rivals Google and Meta. Despite employing human teams to quality-check Siri interactions, Apple is often perceived as trailing in the AI race. The Data Operations Annotations team’s relocation may signal Apple’s strategic effort to enhance AI capabilities, especially considering reports hinting at the company’s large language models (LLMs) strategy unveiling in June.

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