Google Assistant is considered to be the best virtual digital helper found on a smartphone, well above Apple's Siri and Amazon's Alexa. The Guardian recently received a large number of documents from a former Siri grader; the grader worked for one of the third-party contractors hired by Apple to grade the AI-based digital assistant's performance. Word got out last month that snippets of recordings made by Siri and sent to these third party firms for grading included sounds of sexual activity and conversations with doctors. In these cases, Siri was accidentally activated by a sound or a phrase similar to its wake word, and the recordings were shared by Apple without the user's consent.
The documents leaked to The Guardian included more than 50 screenshots of Siri requests, which produced transcripts of the interaction automatically. While Apple stated that "user requests are not associated with the user's Apple ID," the transcripts included information like phone numbers and full names that could be used to identify the user. The documents also showed the breadth of the grading program. Over a three month period, over 7 million Siri clips from iPad users in 10 different regions were graded. And Apple was looking to provide more audio generated by AirPod, CarPlay and Apple TV remote users making requests for the digital assistant to handle.
The leaked documents include a roadmap for Siri
Apple ended the use of contractors to grade Siri and will ask users to opt-in if they don't mind sharing their data.The graders working for the contractors weren't given much guidance from Apple about how to deal with the personal information they were listening to. But Apple was adamant about one thing-the graders were not to speak to the media. One bit of correspondence that they received said that "it is of the utmost importance that NO confidential information about the products you are working on … be communicated to anyone outside of Apple, including … especially, the press. User privacy is held at the utmost importance in Apple’s values." That last sentence should be considered quite ironic in light of subsequent events. After information about the grading program leaked in July (following similar leaks about programs at Amazon and Google).
The leaked documents reveal something of a roadmap for Siri. Part of iOS 13, which will be released very shortly, includes some Siri upgrades codenamed "Yukon." These improvements include Siri support for Find My Friends and the App Store and will provide song identification for Apple Watch users through Apple's Shazam system. Apple wants to allow users to say, "Play Barely Breathing by Duncan Sheik on my HomePod." It also hopes to have Siri read notifications out loud to AirPods users.
Perhaps the most exciting part of this treasure trove of documents is Siri's roadmap for 2021. There is talk about "new hardware support" for a "new device" which could very well be Apple's long-rumored Apple Glasses AR headset. And in two years from now, the Yukon+1 update (as it is referred to in the leaked documents) could allow Siri users to hold back and forth conversations about issues related to health.
Apple might have been hoping that by grading Siri and adding new features in iOS 13 and iOS 15, it could finally help its digital assistant come closer to the promise that many saw when Siri was first introduced on the iPhone 4s in 2011. But right now, it seems that Google and even Amazon seem more tapped into what the public wants from a digital assistant.