Virtual Assistants: What is Apple Siri

Last Updated on November 10, 2020 by Sean B

The Apple Siri chatbot is an artificially intelligent virtual assistant software that comes with almost all of Apple’s products, including their iPhones, Apple TV, iPads, MacBooks, desktop computers, various smart home products by Apple, and their smart wearables. Unlike most of Apple’s products and software, Siri was not developed originally by Apple but was acquired by them.

Apple’s Siri was actually created by SRI International Artificial Intelligence Centre. The project was funded by the DARPA under the Cognitive Assistant that Learns and Organizes project. DAPRA is an abbreviation for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which is the United States Department of Defense’s agency that is responsible for the research and development of new technologies. The initial development team of Siri consisted of Dag Kittlaus, Adam Cheyer, and Tom Gruber. The name Siri was adopted from a female Norwegian given name, which means “beautiful woman who can lead you to success”.

The speech recognition engine working behind Siri was developed by Nuance Communications. It was never made public by Apple or Nuance until 2011 when the CEO of Nuance, Paul Ricci, acknowledged the fact at a technology conference.

Siri was first released on the iOS ecosystem as a standalone app in February 2010. It was then acquired by Apple in April of the same year. It was then taken off the App Store and introduced as a part of iOS in October 2011 at the time of iPhone 4s release. Siri was the actualization of Apple’s concept of a virtual assistant that was proposed by Steve Jobs as early as 1987.

A man holding an iPhone.

What Can Siri Do?

Siri can be regarded as an interactive interface that Apple product users can use to command their devices for executing an action or providing information from the device or the internet. Siri answers questions, performs actions, and gives recommendations according to the usage history and preferences of the user. It keeps learning more and more about the user, and its functionality improves with time.

It can be used to make calls, send messages through various apps, check stock prices, set alarms and reminders, find flights and hotel bookings, and search the internet for any information. If you receive a message while you are not in the position to take your phone out, you can configure Siri to read the messages via your AirPods. It can also offer you suggestions like messaging your folks that you will be home late. On an iPhone, anyone can use Siri by saying “Hey Siri” or simply tapping on the AirPods, if enabled from the settings.

That’s what Siri can do on a smartphone or laptop. When used in the smart home devices, you can use it to turn on or off electronics, operate appliances, and manage various other accessories of your home. On Apple TV remote, Siri offers the voice-activated operation of the TV.

A robot with an iPad using chatbots for marketing.

Limitations of Siri

Keeping in mind Apple’s commitment to excellence and its reputation for incredible attention to detail, one can expect Siri to be the perfect artificially intelligent personal assistant platform, but that is not the case yet.

One of the main limitations of Siri’s abilities is its voice recognition. It can understand you better if you speak as precisely as possible and have a natural accent. It faces major problems understanding many accents. According to some, Siri can best understand you if you speak in a slow robot-like tone. Siri also struggles to comprehend your voice if you are in an area with high background noise levels. This makes it difficult to talk to in many scenarios a user might face in an average day.

Another area where Apple Siri lacks is recognition of spelling variations. It tends to mix different names that sound similar and gets confused when it encounters words that are not programmed into it.

It has also been noted that Apple’s Siri can misinterpret the commands issued by a user, even if they are using it in a totally safe environment with no background noise and a clear voice. It can mishear commands or just simply fail to understand what’s said on the least amount of vagueness in the command.

Another problem with the Siri bot is that it can become painfully slow at times. It gets slow to the point where it is literally frustrating to talk to it. It typically happens when you have just started using it. After spending some more time with a user, Siri starts to understand them, and this generally solves the slow speed issue.

An odd error that has been observed in Siri is that it can search the internet easily and comes up with reasonable and logical answers almost every time, but it cannot search Apple’s own App Store.

There is a pretty big security compromise built into the Apple Siri virtual assistant. Even if an iPhone is locked, Siri can be called to send a message to anyone on the contact list without having to unlock the phone.

A young woman shopping online with her iphone asking Apple Siri for help.

What is Apple Siri? Virtual Assistant or Chatbot?

One thing is clear; Siri is still far from being a futuristic artificially intelligent virtual assistant that Apple likes to market it as. However, we do need to take the fact into account that Siri is quite a young virtual assistant and it has improved a great deal over the last decade and it will improve to become the perfect one. Even now, it is a nice addition to an iPhone and makes it easier for users to interact with the device. But, what is Apple Siri? Is it really a chatbot?

Yes, Apple’s Siri, in essence, is a chatbot. It shares the same basic infrastructure and is based on the same roots as AI chatbots, but it has some inherent differences. It has been developed differently and functions in a way different than chatbots. The first difference between chatbots and personal assistants is their voice. A virtual assistant is just a glorified chatbot with a pretty voice. Other than that, they both utilize the same adaptive intelligence and use the same techniques for natural language processing.

The main difference between a chatbot and a virtual assistant like Siri is the scope of their usage. Chatbots are mainly developed and commissioned by businesses to interact with their customers, whereas virtual assistants are focused on personal use.

Generally, developing a virtual assistant like the Siri chatbot that works across devices and performs a lot of functions is a very difficult task than creating a chatbot intended to talk to people on a set line.

The Final Verdict

Siri is one of the leading personal assistants in existence currently. It is not a chatbot judging by the strict technical definition of a chatbot, but it does share the same roots. It can be used to interact with Apple devices with natural language commands via voice or by typing the command in. It also does a lot of other functions on Apple’s smart home devices, TVs, and wearables. Apple Siri comes with its own limitations, and most of them are related to detecting and comprehending commands. However, it is a relatively new one in the AI scene, and it will improve over time.

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2 thoughts on “Virtual Assistants: What is Apple Siri”

  1. “How can I help you?”, but then in Dutch! I see it regularly whenever I have pressed some button too long again. And I am deeply ashamed now, Sean, but I have never used Siri. I always click the button again. Oops.

    In a way it’s strange, because when I had my first computer (over 30 years ago) I always wanted the newest gadget, the newest programs, etc. Until the point I concluded I bumped my nose just too much and left it to others to be the early adopters.

    Your remarks about what is not functioning OK, don’t help either. But I am sure that at some point my curiosity gets the best of me, and I will give Siri my attention. 🙂

    • Hannie,

      Remember that Siri can learn over time, so some of the issues I mentioned, such as those with accents, will vanish as She gets used to hearing you talk. But I understand the frustration that Siri (and other chatbots) can cause. Once you get used to working with her, you’ll enjoy some of what Siri can do for you.

      I think everyone has a few issues when they are first getting used to their virtual assistant. We have Alexa on our TV remote and I keep holding the button too long or get frustrated when something I said was interpreted or heard horribly wrong. Once, the remote heard “wash the dooze” instead of “watch the news.” I tried multiple times, but Alexa was hooked on trying to learn what I meant by “wash the dooze” so I just gave up after about 5 minutes and changed the channel myself.

      I can’t wait until chatbots get more personality, or are licensed to use celebrity voices. I imagine that someday soon we’ll be able to engage with one of the major virtual assistants with the voice of someone like Arnold Schwarzenegger. Picture this, you have Siri using Arnold’s voice and you’re following a recipe. When it calls for using the food processor he just screams, “Get to da choppa!”

      Thanks for the comment,


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