To move forward, Siri needs a lot of attention

Apple recently confirmed that it bought Inductiv, a machine-learning company based in Canada; the staff from the firm will apparently be working on improving Siri. This is just the latest in a line of acquisitions of AI and machine-learning companies that Apple has bought over the last few years, many of which likely had the company’s voice assistant in mind.

The future can’t come too soon.

Way back in 2015, before Apple’s annual September event, I put forth that what Apple’s Siri (then a mere four years old) needed was a major “2.0” push, taking a hard look at the virtual agent from the ground up.

Almost five years later, not only has no such initiative ever really happened, but Siri seems to have languished, receiving updates only in fits and starts. While Apple hasn’t forgotten about it, the company seems to have, by and large, deemed Siri “good enough” and moved on to the next thing.

This year, as Apple gets ready to take the wraps off iPadOS and iOS 14, the next version of macOS, and perhaps even an update to the HomePod, it seems like a good time to revisit the places where Siri still falls short.

Get personal

Nobody’s ever going to mistake Siri for a real person. And that’s fine—we don’t necessarily want virtual agents running around tricking people into thinking they’re talking to a human (see Google Assistant’s still somewhat unsettling “making appointments by phone” feature). But when we want our intelligence assistant to actually assist us, we shouldn’t have to sit around and think about the perfect way to phrase a query. It should be as natural as talking to a friend or co-worker.

And that’s the key: I don’t want Siri to make me think it’s human—I want it to understand that I’m human. Which is to say, sometimes I make mistakes, formulate a question badly, use the wrong word, and so on—but in talking to another person, they usually get the gist.

That includes knowing when something actually needs acknowledgement. If I ask Siri to turn on the lights in my kitchen, I don’t need it to tell me “I’ve sent the request.” Amazon’s Echo and Google’s Nest Hub both handle this appropriately, playing a small chime when they’ve issued the command. It’s not always about you, Siri.