Apple is teaching Siri to learn new tricks

Digitimes promises 'enhanced Siri' as AI wars intensify

Apple plans to introduce a much smarter version of Siri this year, leveraging a bunch of machine learning technologies it recently acquired with Turi, Tuplejump, Perceptio, VocalIQ and other AI-focused acquisitions, Digitimes claims.

Coming soon?

The report seems to suggest Apple plans to introduce these features alongside introduction of a future iPhone, though it is not clear if this will be this year, or the next.

However, this makes little sense given Siri is now available across all Apple’s platforms – while the capabilities may differ (Siri behaves a little differently on a Mac, for example), the basic tech is similar.

That’s why I can’t imagine new Siri features being introduced as an iPhone exclusive. The report also states other smartphone vendors, “are likely to introduce models featuring AI (artificial intelligence) applications as a means to ramp up market shares in 2017, according to industry sources.”

Those sources “also indicated that Apple's next-generation iPhone devices are likely to come with enhanced Siri,” the report claims. The AI wars are intensifying.

Teaching Siri new tricks

Apple needs to enable Siri to become more capable of contextual tasks.

At present Siri’s contextual understanding is fairly limited, but the company surely hopes that as its service becomes more personalized and better tuned in to what individual users need, it will be able to provide more effective help across the Siri-supporting ecosystem.

“A.I. is horizontal in nature, running across all products,” Tim Cook said last year. 

Apple also knows that Siri has fallen behind Alexa in terms of deployment. Siri has only supported limited functionality within third-party apps for a few months.

Amazon’s Alexa, meanwhile, is now supported by numerous partnerships across multiple home devices. Apple’s HomeKit struggles in comparison, though it does provide essential privacy and security advantages

Getting to know you

Used within Siri, Turi’s technologies may enable third party developers to create personalized product support within Siri, enabling new interactions and better preemptive reaction to requests and context.

Because Turi’s tech is now also Apple’s, this implementation would also maintain people’s personal privacy by keeping their data inside the Apple’s differential privacy-protected Walled Garden.

In conjunction with so many recent Apple in AI investments, it could enable Siri to learn new tricks faster. In theory you may be able to train it to work the way you want it to, rather than needing to teach yourself how it works.

Apple also purchased Emotient, meaning Siri, like Softbank's Pepper robot (above), could even gain insight into your emotions.

Re-sounding Echo?

As I wrote yesterday, Apple appears to be in a weak position when it comes to use of Siri across the home, but appearances can be deceptive.

You can already engage in many of the tasks you may choose to use an Amazon Echo for using an Apple Watch, but this is arguably less attractive to families – at least everyone can use an Echo even if only one family member has an iPhone or Watch.

The challenge with Alexa is that many users don’t fully engage with the products that support Amazon’s solution once they train them. Most Alexa ‘skills’ are unused, and those that are learned are rarely used again.

This could reflect the complexity for consumers who must learn a whole new way to engage with each product. Is it possible Apple’s “enhanced Siri” may go some way toward addressing this, by enabling a smart machine intelligence to learn about the consumer, rather than demanding consumers do the work? 

What else does Siri need?

I can’t help thinking Apple’s recent decision to end AirPort product development may have some bearing on what happens next for its smart assistant. Could it plan to deploy mesh-based technologies that combine AirPort features with Alexa-focused Siri@home tech?

Along with improvements in Siri’s contextual awareness, many Apple customers want it to offer an offline mode. The ability to use Siri on Apple TV alongside other home entertainment equipment also merits improvement – if Alexa can learn how to control your Harmony remote using voice commands, why can’t Siri?

It will be interesting to see just how much enhancement Apple plans.

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Copyright © 2017 IDG Communications, Inc.

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