Fueled by the boom in AI chatbots, Apple is reportedly testing new ChatGPT-style features for Siri.
The overlooked digital assistant is poised to gain natural language generation skills that could make it much more useful. Apple has already enabled new features on Apple TV, the company’s streaming box, that allow Siri to use AI enhancements to tell jokes and potentially set timers, according to 9to5Mac.
While the tvOS 16.4 beta update is currently only available to developers, the public will soon be able to try it out by signing up to Apple’s beta software program.
The move could mark the start of a major overhaul of Siri in Apple’s kit, as code for the new AI capabilities appears to be included on the iPhone, iPad, Mac, HomePod, and Apple TV as well. Although Siri can already make jokes and set timers, natural language capabilities would essentially allow the digital helper to be more creative and collaborative.
For example, OpenAI’s ChatGPT can write essays, songs, poems, and have conversations. The bot’s latest version, GPT-4, can also recognize images — a feature that could theoretically allow it to suggest meal ideas based on a photo of the inside of your fridge.
Unlike ChatGPT, which can only respond with text, Siri is a voice-controlled personal assistant that you talk to on Apple devices. Broadly speaking, Siri can read your most recent email, text or call your mate, find a table at a London restaurant, and play your favorite song on Apple Music.
Apple customers have been asking for a smarter Siri for years, but the digital assistant has been largely overshadowed by competitors like Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. Now, chatbots pose an even greater threat to these tools as a number of companies integrate them into their existing apps and services, including Snapchat, Slack, and Microsoft.
But Siri could get a new life. The New York Times recently reported that Apple engineers “tested language-generating concepts every week.”
In February, it was announced that Apple will triple its data center capacity this year to bring more power to its facilities. All that extra juice could be used to provide data-hungry products like a ChatGPT competitor or an Apple search engine.
However, Apple has not officially confirmed the existence of such a chatbot. It’s also important to note that a Siri upgrade doesn’t necessarily mean that it magically turns into a ChatGPT-style bot.
In practice, however, natural language generation capabilities could help Siri perform a wider range of tasks and make it more fun to use. Currently, Siri can only track a limited number of topics and reportedly has a “clunky” backend system that previously made it difficult to add new features.
Still, Apple needs to act fast to catch up with the competition. Microsoft, which has invested $10 billion (£8.2 billion) in OpenAI, already uses GPT-4 to power its Bing chatbot. Google is also testing its Bard chatbot with employees and already has an image recognition tool called Lens.
Perhaps Apple is afraid of releasing the technology to the public before it’s ready. Finally, chatbots from Google and Microsoft have both shown that they can make mistakes too. The tech suffers from so-called hallucinations — the name used when chatbots make things up.
Now imagine these sorts of glitches happening across the two billion Apple devices currently active around the world, and you can see why Apple is wary of the tech world’s new obsession.