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Opening Siri to developers should make the A.I. system smarter

Sharon Gaudin | June 15, 2016
Apple hopes to make Siri less of a joke and more of a real assistant.

By the nature of artificial intelligence, Apple's virtual assistant Siri needs a lot more data and a lot more people using it to get dramatically smarter.

That's what Apple is shooting for by bringing Siri to the Mac and opening it to third-party developers. With more people using the smart digital assistant, Siri could become the service that it was expected to be.

With Apple pushing ahead with expanding Siri, industry analysts expect the increasing A.I.-focused competition among industry giants Google, Microsoft, Amazon and Apple should propel smart technologies to a whole new level in a few years.

"A.I. means a lot to all four of these companies," said Patrick Moorhead, an analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy. "You have four of the largest, best-funded companies on the planet driving A.I. right now, so I believe they will accelerate it light years from where we are now."

On Monday, during Apple's annual Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) keynote, the company laid out its plan to open Siri to third-party developers through its API. This will give other apps the ability to not only be activated via Siri's voice commands but also will enable Siri to work inside other apps.

Apple is hoping that by opening up Siri to other developers and by allowing it to work with other apps, soaking in all that extra work and data will help the technology out of its slump.

Five years after Siri was announced amid a flurry of headlines about the power of artificial intelligence and all it could do for us, Apple's digital assistant has become something of a disappointment, causing more eye rolls than affection.

Meanwhile, industry rival Google is preparing to launch its A.I.-based Assistant and Home hardware, Microsoft has Cortana, and Amazon has its virtual assistant Alexa with its Echo home device.

Apple was being outgunned.

"Siri set a high expectation of a smart A.I.," said Rob Enderle, an analyst with the Enderle Group. "The end result was that the majority of folks just stopped using it. They need to bring it in line with expectations, which means it needs to get a lot smarter, and then they need to convince people it really has improved enough to use it again. Impressions like that can be really tough to overcome."

Moorhead added that users of Apple's A.I. rivals have had their own disappointments, but Siri seems to be the technology that's most focused on.

"Siri was first to market with a consumer-grade agent, so the expectations were high, particularly when you have a company like Apple launching it," he said. "When Apple started marketing it and its capabilities, consumers wanted to believe it was perfect and would work under every circumstance. It didn't."


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