iOS 11's Machine Learning Turns Siri into a 'Her'-Style Assistant

Siri will learn your habits.


Apple wants Siri to become your personal assistant. At the Worldwide Developers’ Conference on Monday, the company took the wrappings off iOS 11, a free update launching this fall that brings a slew of new features to the iPhone and iPad. Core to this new update is a focus on artificial intelligence, using machine learning to create a new version of Siri that learns all about you and tries to offer more intelligent suggestions.

“We’ve used deep learning to create a really natural and expressive voice for Siri,” Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of Software Engineering, said during the event.

The new assistant pools the data it learns about you so it’s able to suggest news topics you might find interesting through the News app, or make suggestions based on Safari history. It also understands context better: when asked “how far away are you?” Siri will check the calendar and calculate the time of arrival to your next appointment.

Siri also supports translations now.


The new assistant, with a voice now capable of varying emphasis on different words, moves closer to the smartphone assistant depicted in the 2013 Spike Jonze film Her, in which a man’s voice-activated personal assistant becomes the love of his life. Much like the A.I. in the film, the new Siri will share data between the other “Siris” in your life, so the assistant on the Mac will know the same things about you that the Siri on the iPhone does.

Beyond Siri, the operating system uses machine learning to power a number of new features. Several new application programming interfaces (API) allow developers to create new apps that use these features. A Vision API offers face tracking, landmark and object detection in the camera view. A Natural Language API allows apps to recognize named entities and act on them accordingly. There’s a new system that brings all these features together called Core ML (machine learning), making it easy for developers to add A.I. into their apps.

These new underpinnings mean the iPhone’s artificial intelligence features have received a real performance boost. The on-board image recognition system, used for searching photos using words like “dog” without using any tags, can scan photos at a rate of 630 images per minute. The Samsung Galaxy S8, by comparison, can scan just 90 photos per minute.

“Today, we’re going to take the world’s best and most advanced operating system and turn it up to 11!” CEO Tim Cook said during the event.

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