Why I’m expecting big things for Siri

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Apple’s on a mission to turn its cheeky voice assistant into a powerful platform in its own right

Apple’s machine learning teams are working to transition the Siri voice assistant away from being a service into becoming a platform in its own right, working seamlessly across every Apple device.

Siri’s smartening up

When it ships, iOS 11 will see public introduction of a series of enhancements likely to extend what Siri on Apple devices can achieve.

These include new machine learning APIs third-party developers will use to create intelligent and personalized apps with Siri support. What else has been improved?

  • The new Siri features a much-improved speaking voice, samples of which you can listen to at the end of this Apple article.
  • Much more effective face recognition.
  • Personalized recommendations in News, Safari, Maps.
  • Useful integrations such as auto-recognition of calendar appointments continue to extend across apps and platforms.
  • You can pay people using Siri, monitor workout sessions, transfer cash between accounts, and more.
  • Taking advantage of its international reach, Siri will also translate conversation between U.S. English, Chinese, French, German, Italian and Spanish.

Siri is also becoming better at sharing its insights about you securely between all your devices. One way this shows itself is that your Photos face recognition database is now shared across all your devices.

This matters because it shows Siri becoming a smart something personalized for you and capable of working across all your compatible devices: Mac, iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, AirPod, HomePod, Apple TV and beyond.

Siri is becoming a platform

In its first incarnation, Siri was an interesting if limited alternative to searching the internet for information or setting a time. Competitors quickly created their own spoken front end for different kinds of search, and Siri fell behind.

However, search isn’t everything, and personalization and the fulfillment of more complex requests is the emerging frontier for AI.

Apple has kind of begun telling us about some of the ways it thinks about AI on its newly published Machine Learning blog.

Apple’s wider plans for Siri were made a little clearer when Apple chose to assign control of Siri development to its software engineering chief, Craig Federighi. That showed us that Apple wants Siri to be an integral platform across all its operating systems — with implications across the smart home and wearables.

The company’s machine learning technologies depend on numerous components, including using vast quantities of data to help training these machines to accomplish quite complex tasks.

This kind of “neural network” training is why Apple’s Photos app can recognize images containing a tree, for example. Apple also uses this kind of deep learning tech to train Siri to understand what is said when the audio is not very good quality.

The importance of Siri to the company’s product range is clear. Apple apparently even intends to make it possible to invoke Siri using the Sleep/Wake button on iPhone X.

Why Siri matters

It is important to recognize how widely used Apple’s Siri has become. Siri is international. It is accessed monthly on more than 375 million Apple devices across 36 countries, the Wall Street Journal has said.

The people using it are engaged with their devices, like them and use them in productive ways — all the surveys suggest Apple’s iOS audiences are much more engaged with using their devices than those on other platforms.

That means Apple has lots of user data to crunch for useful insights. (With differential privacy to keep your lives private while it does.)

Now the company seems to be seeing Siri as a platform rather than a service; we should see the company begin to make more use of those insights across all its other products.

What’s the end game? I don’t know for sure, but I suspect we’re looking to the creation of an intelligent, personalized, contextually aware voice- and gesture-based user interface for use in next-generation devices. Apple’s cheeky little assistant is about to grow up.

 

This article first appeared in www.computerworld.com

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About Author

Jonny Evans

My name is Jonny Evans. I'm a freelancer who has been writing (mainly about Apple) since 1999. These days I write my daily Apple Holic blog at Computerworld.com, where I try to deliver sometimes interesting, sometimes provocative insights into what Cupertino is doing. I try to write something worth reading.

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