Apple will revamp Siri to catch up to its chatbot competitors

“It’s always been the Siri vision to have a conversational interface that understands language and context, but it’s a hard problem,” said Mr Tom Gruber, a co-founder of Siri who worked at Apple until 2018. “Now that the technology has changed, it should be possible to do a much better job of that. So long as it’s not a one-size-fits-all effort to answer anything, then they should be able to avoid trouble.”

Apple has several advantages in the AI race, including more than two billion devices in use around the world where it can distribute AI products. It also has a leading semiconductor team that has been making sophisticated chips capable of powering AI tasks like facial recognition.

But for the past decade, Apple has struggled to develop a comprehensive AI strategy, and Siri has not had major improvements since its introduction.

The assistant’s struggles blunted the appeal of the company’s HomePod smart speaker because it could not consistently perform simple tasks, such as fulfilling a song request.

The Siri team has failed to get the kind of attention and resources that went to other groups inside Apple, said Mr John Burkey, who worked on Siri for two years before founding a generative AI platform,

The company’s divisions, such as software and hardware, operate independently of one another and share limited information. But AI needs to be threaded through products to succeed.

“It’s not in Apple’s DNA,” Mr Burkey said. “It’s a blind spot.”

Apple has also struggled to recruit and retain leading AI researchers. Over the years, it has acquired AI companies led by leaders in the field, but they all left after a few years.

The reasons for their departures vary, but one factor is Apple’s secrecy. The company publishes fewer papers on its AI work than Google, Meta and Microsoft, and it does not participate in conferences in the same way that its rivals do.

“Research scientists say: ‘What are my other options? Can I go back into academia? Can I go to a research institute, some place where I can work a bit more in the open?’” said Professor Ruslan Salakhutdinov, a leading AI researcher, who left Apple in 2020 to return to Carnegie Mellon University.

In recent months, Apple has increased the number of AI papers it has published. But prominent AI researchers have questioned the value of the papers, saying they are more about creating the impression of meaningful work than providing examples of what Apple may bring to market.

Mr Fu Tsu-Jui, an Apple intern and AI doctoral student at the University of California, Santa Barbara, wrote one of Apple’s recent AI papers.

He spent last summer developing a system for editing photos with written commands rather than Photoshop tools. He said that Apple supported the project by providing him with the necessary GPUs (graphics processing unit) to train the system, but that he had no interaction with the AI team working on Apple products.

Although he said he had interviewed for full-time jobs at Adobe and Nvidia, he plans to return to Apple after he graduates because he thinks he can make a bigger difference there.

“AI product and research is emerging in Apple, but most companies are very mature,” Mr Fu said in an interview with The New York Times. “At Apple, I can have more room to lead a project instead of just being a member of a team doing something.” NYTIMES


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