Apple Director Resigns Over Company’s Return to Office Plans

The head of Apple's Machine Learning team has parted ways with the tech giant after just three months on the job.
Aaron Drapkin

Ian Goodfellow, Apple’s Director of Machine Learning, has resigned in opposition to the company’s return to office policy.

The news comes just days after Apple Together, a cohort of disgruntled Apple employees, penned an open letter expressing their opposition to plans to make spending three days in the office a requirement for the company's 25,000 Bay Area employees after May 23rd. This will mark the final phase of the company's gradual return to office strategy, which commenced last June but was then postponed due to Covid fears.

The fact the decision has caused at least one high-profile resignation is unsurprising considering the fact so many other companies are now offering full flexibility in light of its effect on employee wellbeing.

Apple's Director of Machine Learning Resigns

Ian Goodfellow, Apple’s Director of Machine Learning, is leaving the company due to its return-to-work policy. Journalist Zoe Schiffer broke the story on Twitter, Goodfellow said in a letter to employees that he felt “strongly that more flexibility would have been the best policy for my team.”

Goodfellow, a former employee of Google who was a Senior Staff Research Scientist, is a highly respected figure in his field described by journalist Zoe Schiffer as Apple’s “most cited [machine learning] expert.”

He joins the cohort of Apple staffers known as Apple Together in his opposition to the return-to-work mandate.

Apple Together said in an open letter that “three fixed days in the office and the two WFH days broken apart by an office day, is almost no flexibility at all,” and complained that “office-bound work is a technology from the last century, from the era before ubiquitous video-call-capable internet and everyone being on the same internal chat application.”

GAN but not Forgotten

Ian Goodfellow – who has only been an Apple employee since March – headed up the Machine Learning department of Apple’s Special Projects group.

Goodfellow created GANs, a class of machine learning networks where two neural net architectures (generative and discriminative) are put up against one another to generate increasingly accurate outcomes through competition.

Goodfellow's neural net models have been used to generate deep fakes as well as digital images that are indistinguishable from their copies.

Apple has been attempting to improve its AI capabilities for some time now – and has been acquiring AI startups since 2017, so Goodfellow’s short tenure and principled regulation will be a big blow.

Will more resignations follow?

It's entirely possible. Many of the companies that would be looking to employ the same sorts of industry leaders, experts, and thinkers – such as Microsoft and Facebook, which also have ongoing AI projects – offer much more flexibility than Apple does when it comes to deciding on working from home.

The pandemic has created a shift in how we conceptualize the working day and, most importantly, has shown exactly how much work can get done without the need for an office – something that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago. This, combined with a general skills shortage and phenomena like the Great Resignation, means professionals have never been in a better position to demand flexible hours that work for them.

Apple's return-to-office policy has clearly ruffled the feathers of plenty of employees – but whether any other big names will join Ian Goodfellow remains to be seen.

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Aaron Drapkin is a Senior Writer at Tech.co. He has been researching and writing about technology, politics, and society in print and online publications since graduating with a Philosophy degree from the University of Bristol three years ago. As a writer, Aaron takes a special interest in VPNs and project management software. He has been quoted in the Daily Mirror, Daily Express, The Daily Mail, Computer Weekly, and the Silicon Republic speaking on various privacy and cybersecurity issues, and has articles published in Wired, Vice, Metro, The Week, and Politics.co.uk covering a wide range of topics.

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