Apple's Concern With User Privacy Reportedly Stifling Siri Development

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Former Apple employees who worked on Siri believe the virtual assistant is struggling to catch up with its rivals because of a lack of ambitious goals stemming from the company's overarching concern with user privacy, a report by The Wall Street Journal revealed on Thursday.

Unlike Amazon and Google, which leverage and retain user data off-device to inform and enhance queries put to their respective smart speakers, Apple is said to work within a culture that prioritizes user privacy, "making it difficult to personalize and improve" Siri, according to ex-Apple employees. The project has also reportedly suffered from the departures of key members as a result, some of whom went to competitors.
About a year after [Steve] Jobs's death, Apple hired Bill Stasior, an Amazon search executive, to oversee Siri. Mr. Stasior studied artificial intelligence at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, but his expertise was in search rather than speech or language. This led some members of the Siri team to believe he didn't fully appreciate the product's original vision: to expand beyond the iPhone to third-party apps.
Former staff reportedly offered this loss as the main reason behind the departure of Siri co-founders Adam Cheyer and Dag Kittlaus, who left to found Viv, which was acquired by Samsung and is now working closely with Samsung's Bixby assistant team. Apple finally started opening up Siri to third-party developers last year, but many former Siri engineers believe it didn't come soon enough, while developers still remain unhappy at the lack of openness behind the scenes.
The limited scope of Siri's commands disappointed many developers, said Brian Roemmele, a developer who attended the announcement. "People went from being happy and excited to sitting in workshops and realizing, 'I can't use it,'" he said. "Some went back to that attitude: Siri's always going to be dumb."
According to the article, the first inkling Apple got that it was falling behind its rivals came when members of the Siri team arrived at an Amazon event in 2014.
Apple's three-year-old product had gained popularity for its ability to handle calendar appointments, text messaging and a few other simple tasks based on voice commands. Siri had no real competitors.

The outlook quickly changed as the team watched Amazon's video showing off a small, voice-controlled speaker that could play music, order products and search the web. It demonstrated Amazon had figured out how to isolate voices from background noise and have a digital assistant respond to requests from a distance -- abilities Siri hadn't yet mastered.

'People at Apple's anxiety level went up a notch,' said a former member of Apple's Siri team who was there that night.
WSJ notes that Siri's performance still doesn't match Amazon's Echo or Google Home because of the collective weight of Apple's self-imposed limitations. For example, in tests across 5,000 different questions, Siri answered accurately 62 percent of the time, lagging the roughly 90 percent accuracy rate of Google Assistant and Amazon's Alexa, according to Stone Temple, a digital marketing firm.

It remains to be seen whether Apple feels it needs to compete on these specific AI metrics, or if it sees a future for Siri in other areas, such as linguistics - Siri works across 21 language, while Alexa and Google Assistant only speak English and German.

During this week's Worldwide Developers Conference, Apple announced a number of forthcoming enhancements to Siri with iOS 11, including live language translation, contextual query comprehension, and an ability to learn a user's interests. It also unveiled its own Siri-powered premium smart speaker, HomePod, but emphasized sound quality and music enjoyment over the general intelligence of its virtual assistant, which some might say speaks volumes as to Apple's future ambitions in the AI space.

Article Link: Apple's Concern With User Privacy Reportedly Stifling Siri Development
 

TwoBytes

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So i'm reading Steve wouldn't have stood for the Apple of today putting up these walls?
 

applelover1016

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Yea, this sucks for them. Siri has the potential to be something great with the sheer amount of iPhones out there. Maybe an option where you can opt in or out would help. Like I don't mind them using my data if it's going to improve the product overall for everyone to be honest. But, I also know i'm in the minority here.
 
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Mascots

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As a developer: the limited expansion of Siri in iOS 10 was very disappointing. iOS 11 seems to open a few more doors but we'll see.

She needs to step her game up, though.
 
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jmh600cbr

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everyone knows this, the question is how is apple going to surpass this issue?
 

trainwrecka

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It remains to be seen whether Apple feels it needs to compete on these specific AI metrics, or if it sees a future for Siri in other areas, such as linguistics - Siri works across 21 language, while Alexa and Google Assistant only speak English and German.
Two groups think Amazon and Google are the best, while 19 groups think Apple is. Translating is a time consuming process that requires a lot of skill to get right.
[doublepost=1496927713][/doublepost]
Yea, this sucks for them. Siri has the potential to be something great with the sheer amount of iPhones out there. Maybe an option where you can opt in or out would help. Like I don't mind them using my data if it's going to improve the product overall for everyone to be honest. But, I also know i'm in the minority here.
But giving the option like you say would be nice. Even if you are in the minority, it might help the product grow.

I don't have any issues with Siri, but I don't get overly complicated with my requests.
 

chr1s60

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What exactly can Google and Amazon's assistants do that Siri can't?
I can't speak for Amazon, but Google just seems more natural. You can have more of a normal conversation when asking something instead of having to word it so you know Siri will understand. I don't think Google is as far ahead as many around here would have you think.
 
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dude-x

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I heard from an Apple insider that the problem with Siri isn't the lack of sharing of data, but the fact that there are multiple teams doing independent development of various AI technologies, and they don't share their work with the various teams. If these teams can share their research and code then Apple can compete without compromising privacy.
 

zorinlynx

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I don't use Siri much because it still feels weird to talk to my phone. I don't even have it enabled on my Macs.

I'm glad Apple is prioritizing user privacy. I'd rather have my personal data protected than to be able to chat with a robot.
[doublepost=1496928824][/doublepost]
Apple ][ Forever!
A bit off topic, but if you love the Apple II, join us on the Apple II enthusiasts Facebook group. It's an awesome place to talk about vintage shiny. :)
 

samh004

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Sounds like the best idea would be to develop on two tracks, with a toggle to switch between privacy and effectively no privacy. If you want privacy, you don't get as rich an experience, if you want a richer experience, you don't get privacy. Perhaps by enabling users to choose they'll learn how to fix the privacy-only method by examining the no-privacy method.
 

jerry16

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It seems like we get an article like this yearly. I would love for Siri to do more but honestly, she's not even that great with what she already does.

For me personally, she is so frustrating to use most of the time, I don't even try. The idea of an AI assistant making my life easier is laughable simply because I've never known such a thing.
 
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slimothy

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In the age where you air out your laundry on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram, you are clearly in the minority.

Privacy is great but if AI is the direction everyone is going (it is), Apple HAS to keep up.
YOU might post a bunch of crap on FB, IG, and SC. I don't post anything on any except SC. And only things that I wouldn't mind the world seeing. Oh, and of course locations services OFF. Maybe I'm the minority, but at least I'm not that idiot posting that he's going on vacation on FB and getting his empty home burglarized.

I think Apple needs to catch up, but keeping privacy at the forefront of their innovation is key. That's why a lot of people choose Apple products over the inferior Android products aka tracking devices.
 

Scottsoapbox

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Apple could setup an opt in group for data or use all their employees or...

There are more options than 1) scan everything ever said by anyone near the mic and 2) never collect anything.
 
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vertsix

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I really appreciate Apple's stance with privacy, but Siri is pathetic in terms of functionality compared to other alternatives.

Apple needs to find a right balance of both quickly.
 
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Keane16

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everyone knows this, the question is how is apple going to surpass this issue?
From what I've seen Siri is better in iOS 11, it may be down the the Differential Privacy stuff shown off at WWDC 2016.

""We believe you should have great features and great privacy," Federighi told the developer crowd. "Differential privacy is a research topic in the areas of statistics and data analytics that uses hashing, subsampling and noise injection to enable...crowdsourced learning while keeping the data of individual users completely private. Apple has been doing some super-important work in this area to enable differential privacy to be deployed at scale.""

https://www.wired.com/2016/06/apples-differential-privacy-collecting-data/

If it is, then I hope the improvements continue. I'm sure we all want a Siri/Google Now/Alex like J.A.R.V.I.S. from Iron Man.
 

ssong

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Former staff reportedly offered this loss as the main reason behind the departure of Siri co-founders Adam Cheyer and Dag Kittlaus, who left to found Viv, which now powers Samsung's Bixby assistant.

FYI Bixby actually isn't powered by Viv. The Viv team IS working with the Bixby team but Bixby is an in-house solution developed by Samsung prior to the purchase of Viv as an alternative to S Voice.
 
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ssong

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From what I've seen Siri is better in iOS 11, it may be down the the Differential Privacy stuff shown off at WWDC 2016.

""We believe you should have great features and great privacy," Federighi told the developer crowd. "Differential privacy is a research topic in the areas of statistics and data analytics that uses hashing, subsampling and noise injection to enable...crowdsourced learning while keeping the data of individual users completely private. Apple has been doing some super-important work in this area to enable differential privacy to be deployed at scale.""

https://www.wired.com/2016/06/apples-differential-privacy-collecting-data/

If it is, then I hope the improvements continue. I'm sure we all want a Siri/Google Now/Alex like J.A.R.V.I.S. from Iron Man.
I think the Core ML stuff in iOS11 is really interesting cos from what I understood it seems like the dataset would never leave the user's device and it would essentially be a locally training ML model that allows deeper customisation for the user. Which in a way I guess is a different approach to ML than what some other companies have been doing.