Former Apple engineer explains why Siri still sucks


Siri desperately needs some ChatGPT-like smarts
There's a lot Siri doesn't understand. And that's a problem.
Image: Apple/Cult of Mac

Siri simply can’t compete with ChatGPT and other chatbots because it was built with the wrong system, according to someone who was once charged with improving Apple’s voice assistant.

But there’s hope for future improvement, as Apple is reportedly working on a replacement that is being built to be more like ChatGPT.

Why Siri can’t compete with ChatGPT

Say “Hey Siri” to an Apple HomePod or iPhone, then ask it a question and the voice system will respond. Maybe. It’s not very smart, especially when compared to OpenAI’s ChatGPT.

That artificial intelligence-powered chatbot makes headlines every day, especially now that it’s built into Microsoft’s Bing search engine. Meanwhile, Siri mostly draws complaints.

John Burkey, who was hired by Apple back in 2014 to work on its voice assistant, told the New York Times that Siri is built around a huge database of words that it was programmed to understand. If a word a user says isn’t in that database, Siri doesn’t know how to respond to it.

That database made the system very difficult to work on, according to Burkey.

“Seemingly simple updates, like adding some new phrases to the data set, would require rebuilding the entire database, which could take up to six weeks, Mr. Burkey said. Adding more complex features like new search tools could take nearly a year,” reported the NYT.

In contrast, ChatGPT and similar systems are built by giving them examples of people using language. The AIs then use machine learning to understand how to respond. This is not a perfect system. However, the result yields a much broader understanding of what users are asking for than Siri’s command-and-control system.

Hope for a smarter future

Fortunately for people who love Apple products but wish Siri worked better, Cupertino hasn’t been completely asleep at the wheel. Apple reportedly continues working on a more sophisticated voice system.

“Many engineers, including members of the Siri team, have been testing language-generating concepts every week,” the NYT reported.

And 9to5Mac reports, “Apple is testing new natural language generation features for Siri.” These are supposedly being tested in latest tvOS 16.4 beta, and will eventually be expanded to more of Apple’s operating systems.


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