Apple is currently attempting to beef up its AI staff by hiring at least 86 people with expertise in the branch of artificial intelligence known as machine learning, according to a Reuters report.

The goal of the company’s recruitment spree is to challenge Google in the area of smartphone features that can better predict users’ needs. Apple is targeting PhD programs in particular in its search for potential employees, competing with Google, Amazon, Facebook and others in what is described by academics to be “a fierce contest” for talent.

One area that experts say may hinder Apple’s ambitions for its predictive technology is the company’s strict privacy policy; machine learning relies heavily on large-scale data-crunching to figure out what users are likely to want to know, but Apple’s self-imposed constraints means it largely relies on analyzing the data on each user’s iPhone rather than sending it to their servers, where it can be studied alongside information from millions of others. Google, on the other hand, analyses the data of Android users en-masse.

"They want to make a phone that responds to you very quickly without knowledge of the rest of the world," said Joseph Gonzalez, co-founder of Dato, a machine learning startup. "It's harder to do that."

Apple will be launching its Proactive Assistant, the Google Now competitor and update to Siri, with iOS 9. The feature aims to predict what users may want to do at any given time based on previous actions, as well as habits based on their current location - all while adhering to the company’s stance on privacy. Craig Federighi, Apple’s SVP of software engineering, said of iOS 9 that it was “adding intelligence throughout the user experience in a way that enhances how you use your device but without compromising your privacy.”