Apple Pushes to Make Siri's AI More Useful and Reliable

NEWS ANALYSIS: Apple continues to improve Siri with support for new platforms and third parties, but data privacy remains a stumbling block.

Siri Intelligence 2

The battle of the digital assistants will begin again in earnest in the fall of 2016 when the latest version of Apple's Siri hits the street with iOS 10. But this time it also will hit the streets with MacOS Sierra and with the Apple TV.

This latest version of Siri will be the first to provide APIs that enable third-party developers to create new skills and functions for the voice-activated digital assistant.

You've probably noticed that other digital assistants, such as Amazon's Alexa, already have access to third-party apps. But gaining these new functions is a bigger deal for Apple, if only because some of those third-party apps for Siri can extend the assistant's role in artificial intelligence.

One of disadvantages Apple has had with Siri is that it worked with just a few apps from Apple. As a result, compared to other assistants that have reached the market, Siri couldn't do a lot. Adding to the difficulty of making Siri more useful is Apple's laudable focus on privacy, which has further limited what Siri can do.

That's starting to change. Using what Apple is calling "Siri Intelligence," the virtual assistant will begin to be able to pass portions of requests back to Apple for to obtain more complete information or to produce better results.

In the past, Apple resisted enabling Siri to transmit anything that that could be construed as personally identifiable information back to the company. But now the Siri platform can strip off any data that Apple wants to protect and then act on the rest.

Unfortunately for Apple, in the five years since Siri debuted, competitors have worked hard to introduce their own voice-activated artificial intelligence (AI) assistant. Google debuted Google Now, which is about to become Google Assistant, and Microsoft has Cortana, which runs on Windows 10 and the five or six Windows Phones still in use.

Each of the digital assistants has its own challenges and they react in surprising ways. For example, ask Cortana what is the result of zero divided by zero and the assistant will tell you to ask Siri. If you pose the same question to Siri, it will give you a smart-mouthed response that involves Cookie Monster.

Of the three, Google's Assistant is doing better than the others at being useful, but to some extent this is due to Google's long-term effort to gather every piece of information in the universe, regardless of whether it's personal information. This is why Google can talk to you about your upcoming flights or find a phone number in an obscure email.

For its part, Siri needs a bump up in intelligence, which may be a difficult process.

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...