The September 17 launch of iOS 12 will fundamentally change the way Apple users interact with Siri. The introduction of Siri Shortcuts enables the A.I. to execute a series of actions across a variety of apps through customizable voice commands. Instead of having to utter “Hey Siri” to get its attention and working off of a list of pre-existing commands, you tell Siri what the commands are. While the applications now seem a bit underwhelming, this is absolutely a game changer.
The ability to make Siri do whatever you want on your iPhone or iPad can be paralyzing and this is ultimately why this update might seem underwhelming at first glance. But if Apple gives iOS developers a way to share the Shortcuts they create with their colleagues and everyday Apple users — like an App Store for A.I. — then the demonstration during Wednesday’s iPhone keynote was only an early stage preview of the applications that we could see.
Kaiann Drance, Apple’s senior director of worldwide marketing, was the person on stage to share a use-case for this upcoming A.I. capability. She batched four commands together under one umbrella: When she said “Keynote Day” the A.I. ordered her a coffee, activated a reminder, gave her driving directions, and began blasting a playlist.
This series of actions is pretty stale at face value. But if you consider that Siri can now operate across a medley of apps it never had access to before, and the endless number of variations of the orders that can be created, then you start to realize the potential.
Federico Viticci, the creator of the Apple blog MacStories is already pushing these boundaries and giving us a sense of just how cool Shortcuts really is. Over the course of a few days he created a character counter, a way to quickly edit and delete screenshots, and, most impressively, a “sexy time” mode puts his phone on Do Not Disturb, dims the lights in his room, and begins playing romantic music whenever he wants to set the mood. Now we’re cooking with gas.
This kind of hilariously useful command is what will breathe life into what has long been an virtual assistant with no clear purpose. Alexa is meant to make buying things on Amazon as simple as possible. The upcoming Google Duplex wants to save users time by eliminating the need to call a business to make an appointment or reservation. Siri, on the other hand, was nothing more than a glorified weather bot, but these customizable, hilarious, and useful commands might be able to change that.
Putting Siri’s capabilities in the hands of people who want to improve it will only result in more applications. Giving developers a way to share their creations and bounce ideas off of other developers will not only allow more savvy users to mold Siri to their needs, but it’ll inspire a wider audience to get involved in making sure that A.I. is working for them and not visa versa. This is ultimately a goal the Apple CEO Tim Cook has laid out for the tech giant’s machine learning division.
“When technological advancement can go up so exponentially I do think there’s a risk of losing sight of the fact that tech should serve humanity, not the other way around,” he said in an interview with MIT Technology Review.
An App Store for A.I. can be the means to that end. It could foster a community of Siri enthusiasts that can put their brains together to create bigger and better commands for the voice assistant. Much like any online forum, this could become the test grounds for commands that could make Siri do things that were never thought possible.
Apple has laid the groundwork for the first-ever truly customizable A.I. assistant. Now all the company needs is to build the foundation to start a community around it to make sure the people who use it the most can make it shine.