Siri may be about to get a major upgrade from being a personal digital assistant to a full-fledge artificially intelligent entity not unlike Samantha from the movie "Her."
The change could be brought about by Apple's recent acquisition of Cambridge, England-based startup VocalIQ, which ironically called out Siri and other digital assistants including Google Now, Microsoft's Cortana and Amazon's Alexa as mere "toys" compared to the technology it has developed.
The acquisition was first reported by U.K.-based publication Business Weekly and confirmed separately by the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times. Apple has sent its usual boilerplate statement confirming the deal but provided no details as to what it plans with its newly acquired assets. Financial terms remain undisclosed as well.
"Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans," says Apple.
VocalIQ's software, according to the company, uses an artificial intelligence technique called deep learning to help it interact with humans more naturally. While today's digital assistants are wired to recognize only simple preprogrammed commands, the new technology can help Siri interpret conversations, understand context and deliver more natural responses, the way Samantha does when she interacts with Theodore.
Each time the technology interacts with human beings and goes online on the Internet of Things, it learns, so that the next time it converses with a human, it doesn't make the same mistakes it did in the past. In short, as VocalIQ CEO and cofounder Blaise Thomson puts it, "there are no commands for the user to learn. It's about having a conversation."
"The use of speech to interact with machines has reached a tipping point," Steve young, chair of VocalIQ, says. "Without smart conversational interfaces which can adapt to suit the user, the Internet of Things cannot flourish. VocalIQ intends to be the prime supplier of these smart conversational interfaces."
There are plenty of applications for a much more improved Siri, but one theory is Apple could be planning to integrate VocalIQ's technology into its hotly rumored electric car. In 2014, VocalIQ was reported to have been working with General Motors to develop an in-car digital assistant that allows users to control their cars' entertainment and navigation systems via voice, letting them turn on the windshield wipers or turn up the stereo's volume simply by voicing out the command. That said, with Project Titan not expected to hit the streets until 2019, it is still a long way to go before the world witnesses a smarter Siri.