Siri accidentally overhears more than we realize

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Siri Alexa in voice report
Sometimes Siri is listening when we don’t mean it to.
Photo: Apple

It’s been widely reported that voice control systems like Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant and Apple Siri use people in their quality-improvement process, not just algorithms. But Siri and others might be accidentally overhearing to what we say more than we realize, and humans in the loop are getting an earful.

A new report warns that Apple contractors have heard “confidential medical information, drug deals, and recordings of couples having sex.”

How Apple’s AI gurus made Siri an expert in local businesses

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Siri Alexa in voice report
Siri knows the name of your local pizza joint, making it much easier to get directions when you have a craving.
Photo: Apple

Siri is quite good at recognizing what we say, but used to run into difficulties with the names of small businesses. That was until Apple developers found a way to make her much better at this task.

In fact, the new system is more than 40 percent less likely to come up with the wrong business name. 

Ultimate Ears speakers’ get voice upgrade that lets you ‘say it to play it’

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With the UE Boom 2, Ultimate Ears makes a great speaker even better.
A firmware update lets you bark song requests at your Boom 2 speaker. But you'll have to push a button first.
Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

A firmware update to Ultimate Ears’ Bluetooth speakers lets you use simple voice commands to make song requests.

After you install the over-the-air update, just tap the Bluetooth button on the top of your paired Boom 2 or Megaboom speaker, then say something like, “Play ‘Iron Man’ by Black Sabbath.” Soon the track will play as if by magic.

Here’s how Siri might get to your desktop

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Siri
Siri usage is climbing rapidly.
Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

Talking to your iPhone is commonplace these days, but getting Siri on your MacBook or iMac might seem like something out of a near-future like the one shown in Her by Spike Jones.

Siri on the desktop might not be as far out as it seems, though, if a new partnership between speech recognition company Sensory and Intel works out.

Pro Tip: Use Siri without all the loud play-by-play

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Siri
Hush it down, Siri. Hush it down.
Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

Pro Tip Cult of Mac bugYou know how it is: You press and hold the Home button to set a quick timer and Siri comes back all loud, “OK! Setting the timer! I’m in suspense!”

Or some such nonsense. Sure, you want to confirm that Siri’s not, say, adding an event to your calendar or calling your Aunt Tilly instead of setting a timer, but maybe you don’t need Apple’s AI helper to be all chatty about it.

Here’s how you can tamp down Siri’s sometimes-annoying banter.

Future Siri could switch user profiles based on voice

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Play classic arcade games right on your Apple TV.
Siri's ability to recognize different voices could be big for technology like Apple TV.
Photo: Rob LeFebvre/Cult of Mac

As Apple rolls out Siri beyond the iPhone and into shared devices like the iPad and, most recently, Apple TV, Cupertino’s engineers have been working on a way of letting its voice activation technology pick up individual users, and offer them customized options based on their past preferences.

Published today as the patent “User profiling for voice input processing,” the technology would allow Apple to make better use of Siri (and voice recognition in general) as it moves into new fields like home automation and vehicles.

Apple loses patent claim battle against Chinese Siri

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siri
Siri's usefulness has stood the test of time, but can 3D Touch?
Photo: Apple

A Beijing court has ruled against Apple, upholding the validity of a patent for a “type of instant messaging chat bot system” held by a Chinese company.

Zhizhen Internet Technology sued Apple back in 2012, claiming that virtual assistant Siri was infringing on the Chinese company’s patented idea for a so-called Xiaoi Bot. The Chinese bot was patented in 2004 — two years before the first Siri-related patent filing was made.

Tuesday’s Beijing court ruling paves the way for Zhizhen to continue its case against Apple for intellectual property infringement. Apple’s defense? That it never heard of Zhizhen’s technology prior to creating Siri.