Siri Co-Founder Suggests Apple’s Ambition Holds Assistant Back

The release of Apple’s HomePod smart speaker compounded with Amazon and Google’s success with their respective Echo and Home products have reignited discussion as to the overarching disappointment with Siri.

In a new interview with Quartz, Siri co-creator Norman Winarsky suggests that Apple may have given Siri an overly ambitious collection of responsibilities and hasn’t made the feature reliable enough.

Apple acquired Siri from Winarsky’s company, SRI International, in 2010. Winarksy, at this point, optimistically expected Apple to improve the AI so that it would learn more about its users over time, predict what they needed, and constantly improve its conversational abilities.

According to Winarsky, Siri was intended to elicit “surprise and delight” from Apple users, but that this element “is kind of missing right now.” Overall, Siri has fallen short of Winarsky’s – and many others’ – hopes and predictions.

Interestingly, Siri was originally designed to serve as a sort of entertainment and travel concierge. The short-lived iOS app had the ability to look up restaurants, flight statuses, movies, and read the weather, among a number of other basic features.

After Apple purchased Siri, the Cupertino company then decided to turn the AI into a full-time assistant, which Winarsky felt was obviously a much bigger challenge that would take much longer to perfect.

Winarsky says the original intention was for Siri to complete a small number of things “flawlessly.” Once the assistant was able to master the details of a single task – such as routing you home by car or booking you a hotel – then expand to another task, slowly increasing its abilities. Instead, Apple rapidly increased Siri’s capabilities, but failed to fully complete or perfect any of them.

It’s important to keep in mind that Apple’s intense focus on user privacy has doubtless had a significant impact on Siri’s development. While Google and Microsoft have the ability to search cloud-based data through user permission to anticipate one’s needs, Apple has refused to take this option. Siri instead relies on a much smaller set of data stored on a user’s iOS device.

“They’re probably looking for a level of perfection they can’t get,” Winarsky says. “These are hard problems, and when you’re a company dealing with up to a billion people, the problems get harder yet.”

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