Apple will revamp Siri to catch up with its Chatbot competitors

Early last year Apple's top software executives decided that Siri, the company's virtual assistant, needed a brain transplant.

The decision came after executives Craig Federighi and John Giannandrea spent weeks testing OpenAI's new chatbot, ChatGPT. The product's use of generative artificial intelligence, which can write poetry, create computer code and answer complex questions, made Siri seem antiquated, said two people familiar with the company's work, and who didn't they were allowed to speak publicly.

Introduced in 2011 as the original virtual assistant of every iPhone, Siri was limited to individual requests for years and was never able to follow a conversation. Questions are often misunderstood. ChatGPT, on the other hand, knew that if someone asked the weather in San Francisco and then said, “What about New York?” that user wanted another prediction.

The realization that the new technology had bypassed Siri set in motion the tech giant's most significant reorganization in more than a decade. Determined to catch up in the tech industry's AI race, Apple has made generative AI a flagship project — the company's special internal label that it uses to organize employees around once-a-decade initiatives .

Apple is expected to showcase its work on artificial intelligence at its annual developers conference on June 10 when it releases an improved Siri that is more conversational and versatile, according to three people familiar with the company's work, who did not have permission to speak publicly. The technology behind Siri will include a new generative artificial intelligence system that will allow it to chat rather than answer questions one at a time.

The update to Siri is at the forefront of a broader effort to embrace generative artificial intelligence across Apple's business. The company is also increasing the memory of this year's iPhones to support new Siri features. And he discussed licensing complementary AI models that power chatbots from several companies, including Google, Cohere and OpenAI.

An Apple spokesperson declined to comment.

Apple executives fear the new AI technology threatens the company's dominance of the global smartphone market because it has the potential to become the primary operating system, replacing the iPhone's iOS software, two people familiar with the thinking said. of Apple's leadership, who were not allowed to speak in public. This new technology could also create an ecosystem of AI apps, known as agents, that can order Ubers or make calendar appointments, undermining Apple's App Store, which generates about $24 billion in annual sales.

Apple also fears that if it fails to develop its own artificial intelligence system, the iPhone could become a “dumb brick” compared to other technologies. While it's unclear how many people use Siri regularly, the iPhone currently takes up 85% of global smartphone profits and generates more than $200 billion in sales.

This sense of urgency contributed to Apple's decision to cancel its other big bet — a $10 billion project to develop a self-driving car — and reassign hundreds of engineers to work on artificial intelligence.

Apple has also explored the possibility of creating servers powered by iPhone and Mac processors, two of these people said. This could help Apple save money and create consistency between the tools it uses for processes in the cloud and on its devices.

Rather than compete directly with ChatGPT by releasing a chatbot that does things like write poetry, the three people familiar with its work said, Apple has focused on making Siri better at handling tasks it already does, including setting timers, create calendar appointments and add items to a shopping list. It would also be able to summarize text messages.

Apple plans to bill the Siri enhancement as a more private service than rival AI services because it will process requests on iPhones rather than remotely in data centers. The strategy will also save you money. OpenAI spends about 12 cents for about 1,000 words generated by ChatGPT due to cloud computing costs.

(The New York Times sued OpenAI and its partner, Microsoft, in December for copyright infringement of news content related to artificial intelligence systems.)

But Apple faces risks by relying on a smaller AI system hosted on iPhones rather than a larger one stored in a data center. Research has found that smaller AI systems may be more likely to make errors, known as hallucinations, than larger ones.

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

Apple has several advantages in the AI ​​race, including more than two billion devices in use worldwide where it can deploy AI products. It also has a leading semiconductor team that has built sophisticated chips that can power artificial intelligence tasks such as facial recognition.

But over the past decade, Apple has struggled to develop a comprehensive artificial intelligence strategy, and Siri hasn't seen much improvement since its introduction. The assistant's difficulties dulled the appeal of the company's HomePod smart speaker because she was unable to consistently perform simple tasks like fulfilling a song request.

The Siri team has failed to get the kind of attention and resources that have been given to other groups within Apple, said 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 each other and share limited information. But to be successful, AI must be built into products.

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

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

The reasons for their departure vary, but one factor is Apple's secrecy. The company publishes fewer papers about its AI work than Google, Meta and Microsoft, and doesn't attend conferences like its rivals do.

“Researchers say, 'What are my other options? Can I return to academia? Can I go to a research institute, to a place where I can work a little more outdoors?'” said 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 articles it publishes. But prominent AI researchers have questioned the value of the articles, saying they are more about creating the impression of meaningful work than providing examples of what Apple could bring to market.

Tsu-Jui Fu, an Apple intern and doctoral candidate on artificial intelligence at the University of California, Santa Barbara, wrote one of Apple's recent articles on artificial intelligence. She spent last summer developing a system for editing photos with written commands rather than Photoshop tools. She said that Apple supported the project by providing the GPUs needed to train the system, but that she had no interaction with the AI ​​team working on Apple products.

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

“AI products and research are emerging at Apple, but most companies are very mature,” Fu said in an interview with the Times. “At Apple, I can have more space to lead a project instead of just being a member of a team doing something.”

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