In a tell-all interview with The Information, several former Apple AI and Siri engineers revealed that the technologies’ growth is affected by organizational dysfunction, lack of leadership, and privacy concerns.
It is reported that unrealistic expectations and petty internal politics have hindered Siri’s development over the years along with privacy concerns by 2019.
Siri could have been a ChatGPT-like chatbot years ago only if leadership was progressive
Claiming that Siri is “widely derided” or ridiculed internally at the company, former Apple engineers listed the reasons for its lack of functionality and slow improvement.
Lack of leadership
The team working on Siri was in a “mess” by 2018 because of turf battles between senior executives and indecisiveness in mapping out the direction of the voice assistant.
Data about Siri was not being used because the leadership was not interested in developing tools to analyze the assistant’s usage like how many people used it and how often they were using it.
Conservative approach to new AI technologies
Apple engineers left the company because it was not open to new AI technologies like the large-language models for its voice assistant which underpin ChatGPT like chatbots.
The proposals to give Siri the capability to have a conversation-like interaction were rejected over concerns that AI-generated content would be gimmicky and hard to control.
In 2019, Siri engineering and design teams clashed over a feature that used material from the web to answer queries. The design team wanted a near-perfect accuracy rate in responses to launch the feature, for the voice assistant to appear “all-knowing”.
CEO Tim Cook and other senior executives requested to tailor Siri to prevent embarrassing responses, have a team of 20 writers to pre-write its responses instead of using AI-generated responses, and exclude certain types of information like iPhone prices to push consumers to the company’s website or online store.
Petty turf battles
In 2019, the Siri team started a new project “Blackbird” to rewrite the voice assistant from scratch to create its lightweight version which would delegate the creation of functions to app developers. It also designed Siri to run on iPhones instead of the cloud to improve its privacy and performance.
Although Blackbird created a lot of excitement, the project was killed as it competed with “Siri X”, a project of two senior leaders on the Siri team who were working on making the assistant comprehend and respond to queries.
On the 10th anniversary of the virtual assistant, the team leaders pushed their own project “Siri X” which moved all processing on-device for privacy reasons. The project was completed in 2021 and now several of Siri’s functions are processed on the device.
The Company’s push to make more of Siri’s functions be performed on-device for privacy reasons has made it challenging to introduce new functionalities to the voice assistant.
Recently, Apple mixed reality headset team expressed satisfaction with the Siri team on how the virtual assistant controlled the device. It also explored alternative ways to control the device using voice commands instead Siri.
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