Apple gives Siri an AI facelift

Apple 1Apple has continued its journey into the world of artificial intelligence through the $200 million acquisition of machine learning start-up Turi, according to Geekwire.

The deal has not been explicitly confirmed by the team at Apple, though it does back up claims from CEO Tim Cook the company is extending its footprint into the growing sub-sector. Although Apple has not been the most prominent in the industry in terms of grabbing headlines, Google and IBM have been particularly vocal, a number of its products are built on the basic principles of artificial intelligence. Siri is a prime example though expanding its potential through the implementation of more advanced technologies offers the potential to improve the user experience.

Turi offers tools which enable developers to embed machine learning into applications, which automatically scale and tune. Use cases for the technology include product recommendations, sentiment analysis, churn prediction and lead scoring for trial customers.

The long-term plan for the business is not clear for the moment. Whether the tools will be made available for the Apple developer community, or remain in-house for the tech giant, or even if the company will remain in Seattle, are unknown as the acquisition still remains officially unconfirmed.

“These experiences become more powerful and intuitive as we continue our long history of enriching our products through advanced artificial intelligence,” said Cook on the company’s earnings call last month. “We have focused our AI efforts on the features that best enhance the customer experience.”

During the briefing, Cook highlighted the potential for Siri to not only understand words from the user, but also identify the sentiment. The acquisition of Turi could be a link between a relatively simplistic function currently, to one which can more effectively predict what the consumer wants and better refine search results.

“We’re also using machine learning in many other ways across our products and services, including recommending songs, apps, and news,” said Cook. “Machine learning is improving facial and image recognition in photos, predicting word choice while typing in messages and mail, and providing context awareness in maps for better directions.

“Deep learning within our products even enables them to recognize usage patterns and improve their own battery life. And most importantly, we deliver these intelligent services while protecting users’ privacy. Most of the AI processing takes place on the device rather than being sent to the cloud.”

Although less vocal than other industry players Apple has been expanding its capabilities through various acquisitions. Since the turn of 2015 the company has acquired 15 organizations, not including Turi for the moment, which does contain a number of machine learning competences. VocalIQ, a UK speech tech firm, and Perceptio, an image recognition company, were both bought in September last year, as well as facial recognition business Emotient in January.

The sluggish smartphone market has been causing challenges for manufacturers, driving the need to provide more differentiation. Hardware has provided little opportunity for brands to differentiate products and operating systems offer even less variance, meaning manufacturers have had to invest more in software solutions. Siri is already one of the more recognizable personal assistant features on the market, and the inclusion of an in-phone AI offering could bring about much needed differentiation.