Chris Lattner, the creator of Apple’s Swift, thinks that the smash-hit programming language is going to be a major force in AI development


Chris Lattner

  • Chris Lattner, the senior vice president of platform engineering at SiFive, started building the programming language Swift in 2010 when he still worked at Apple, and it’s now used by companies like Lyft, Uber, Airbnb, and Square.
  • Lattner said it was still too early to say if he would work with Swift at SiFive, but he is still involved in the Swift community.
  • He says the future of Swift is in data science and machine learning.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

When former Apple engineer Chris Lattner first started building the iOS programming language in 2010, it was just a nights-and-weekends side project.

Since its launch in 2014, Swift has quickly become the top language for building new iOS apps, and it’s used by companies like Lyft, Uber, Airbnb, Square, and Apple itself. Lattner said when he first started building Swift, he didn’t expect it to be adopted as quickly as it did. At the time — when it was still just a hobby project — he just wanted to learn and see what could be done. 

Since leaving Apple, Lattner has held stints at Tesla and Google. Recently he joined the artificial-intelligence-chip startup SiFive as its senior vice president of platform engineering. Lattner said it was still too early to say whether he would work with Swift at SiFive, but he maintains connections with the core team that maintains Swift and is still involved in the community.

“Swift is not just me,” Lattner told Business Insider. “I started it and managed it and drove it and cared for it for a long time, but it’s actually the result of a tremendous team.”

‘A lot of ideas have been battle-tested’

Lattner started the project because of challenges he had working with C Plus Plus, an older programming language. 

“C Plus Plus is a complicated language,” Lattner said. “Coming out of this, I was burned out, and I thought, ‘There has to be a better thing. C Plus Plus and Objective-C, neither of them are bad. They’re products of the circumstances they came from. We can do something way better.'”

Later, when he realized that Swift could be a better alternative, he started asking for funding and growing a team at Apple to work on it. And by the time it launched in 2014, he said he had “a pretty good sense it would be really popular.”

“One of the great things about Apple culture is it’s very analytical,” Lattner said. “They ask questions because they’re trying to shape things. That really does shape a product … It’s been four years in, and a lot of the ideas have been battle-tested. A lot of the hard questions had been answered.” 

‘The reception of it blew me away’

Before Swift, the main language for building iOS apps was Objective-C. Lattner doesn’t expect Objective-C to ever disappear, as many existing projects are still written in it. But most new iOS projects he sees are in Swift, including at Apple. 

“Are people still choosing to write projects in Objective-C?” Lattner said. “That’s kind of game over for Objective-C.”

Looking forward, Lattner said the data-science and machine-learning community was quickly changing. Most people in that community use Python, but more people are starting to use Swift. 

“Swift is far more approachable and allows people to be productive,” Lattner said. “It pulls in more people from the community.”

Lattner said Swift was “very Apple-centric” when it first began, but now he sees developers using Swift to write all sorts of projects and tools, including in servers and machine learning.

“We knew we were on the right track and thought it would be exciting and popular,” Lattner said. “The reception of it blew me away.”

SEE ALSO: Why Silicon Valley developers are betting on Apple’s programming language Swift and calling it ‘the future’ of app development

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