Apple enhances Siri but still trails in artificial intelligence race

Mon Jun 13, 2016 9:07pm EDT
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By Julia Love

(Reuters) - Apple unveiled a series of improvements to its Siri digital assistant on Thursday, but the tech giant still trails rivals such as Google and Amazon in the red-hot field of artificial intelligence, experts say.

Apple's biggest move was to open up the talking iPhone assistant to third-party developers for inclusion in their apps, paving the way for users to hail a ride from Uber [UBER.UL] or send a message with Tencent's (0700.HK: Quote) WeChat using voice commands.

Experts in artificial intelligence applauded the move as an important step forward, in part because the more people use an artificial intelligence system, the better it becomes.

But some wondered why Apple had not made Siri an open platform much sooner, noting that competing products including's (AMZN.O: Quote) Alexa, Microsoft's (MSFT.O: Quote) Cortana and the Google (GOOGL.O: Quote) app are already open to developers.

“Is it too little too late?” asked Oren Etzioni, who is CEO of the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence and a professor at the University of Washington. “Siri is five years old and still trying to learn how to play well with others.”

Artificial intelligence involves giving computers the ability to perform functions normally done by people such as speech recognition.

Voice-powered digital assistants could eventually perform many tasks that currently require a smartphone app or a keyboard and a mouse, and thus they are considered a key strategic battleground for all the major tech companies.

The winner of the assistant wars might able to take a cut of purchases made on its platform and also steer users toward its products and those of its allies.   Continued...

Craig Federighi, Senior Vice President of Software Engineering for Apple Inc., announces that the company's Siri assistant for iOS will be opened for developers at the company's World Wide Developers Conference. REUTERS/Stephen Lam