Apple investors reject call for report into company’s AI use

Apple Inc. shareholders rejected a labor-backed request for an artificial intelligence transparency report, which would have delved into whether the company is using the technology ethically. 

The proposal, submitted by AFL-CIO Equity Index Funds, was voted down at Apple’s annual meeting on Wednesday. Shareholders also rejected measures about equal employment policies, civil liberties, racial and gender pay gaps, and human rights. They approved the board slate and the company’s executive compensation plan.

The AI proposal urged Apple to disclose the ethical guidelines that it follows in adopting the technology. Artificial intelligence raises “a number of social policy issues,” according to the measure’s supporting statement. That includes whether it may result in biased decisions against employees or violate the privacy of customers. The statement also warned about the threat of layoffs stemming from automation.

Though the measure was decisively defeated, it was a closer vote than the other shareholder proposals. The AFL-CIO investment arm also is pressing other tech and media firms on the issue, including Walt Disney Co., Netflix Inc. and Warner Bros. Discovery Inc.

In a twist, the proposal was read by Apple retail store employee Michael Forsythe, who said he and his colleagues were concerned about the company’s expansion into artificial intelligence. Forsythe helped launch a unionization push at an Apple store in Oklahoma City. 

Apple has been less open than tech peers about its plans for generative AI — the technology behind chatbots like ChatGPT — but it has promised to discuss its plans later this year. That presentation could come as soon as June, when the company holds its annual developers conference. 

During the shareholder meeting, Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook promised that Apple would “break new ground” in AI this year. “We believe it will unlock transformative opportunities for our users,” helping make them more productive, he said. He also touted machine-learning features in the new Vision Pro headset, saying the device required “decades of innovation.” 

Behind the scenes, Apple has been racing to weave generative AI into its software. Craig Federighi, senior vice president of software engineering, has told his teams to develop as many new AI features as possible for this year’s operating system updates. 

Cook’s pay has been a flashpoint in recent years, when his annual compensation neared $100 million. But in 2023, it dropped 36% to $63.2 million — largely due to smaller stock awards. His salary remains $3 million. Cook’s target stock award for 2024 is $50 million, up from a target of $40 million.

Apple announced last month that two longtime directors wouldn’t be standing for reelection at the meeting because they reached an age threshold of 75: Al Gore, the former US vice president, and James Bell, an ex-Boeing Co. executive. Still, another director, Ronald Sugar, isn’t leaving despite turning 76 later this year. Cook opened the meeting by thanking Gore and Bell.

Apple said that Sugar is remaining “in consideration of the significant recent transitions in board composition and the value of retaining directors who have developed deep insights into the company during their tenure.”

Former Aerospace Corp. CEO Wanda Austin, meanwhile, is joining the board. She has long been a proponent of US space exploration efforts — an area that hasn’t been a major focus for Apple so far. –BLOOMBERG