Thanks to a UK-based company called VocalIQ, it has given a big boost to Apple. It now has the tech in place to give its digital assistant a big boost.
According to a reference familiar with VocalIQ’s product, it’s much more robust and intelligent than Siri’s biggest opponents like Google Now, Amazon’s Alexa, and Microsoft’s Cortana. In fact, it was so awesome that Apple bought VocalIQ before the company could complete and release its Smartphone app. After the addition, Apple kept most of the VocalIQ team and let them work out of their Cambridge office and integrate the product into Siri.
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Before Apple bought the company, VocalIQ experiments its product against Siri, Google Now, and Cortana, and the results were remarkable. Users asked each AI questions using common language, not the robotic instructions you’re used to using with digital assistants. Those words can be long and complex and the other assistants had trouble getting everything.
Let’s take an example, imagine asking a computer to “Find a nearby Chinese restaurant with free parking and WiFi that is friendly for kids.” That’s difficult for most mobile digital assistants, but VocalIQ could manage it. VocalIQ’s progress rate was over 90%, while Google Now, Cortana and Siri were about 20% successful of the time.
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How VocalIQ works? After writing the program, VocalIQ selected contractors through Amazon’s Mechanical Turk to feed the program questions normal humans would command and help it learn how people talk. These contractors would ask VocalIQ questions from a list of ready to train the system. Almost after 3,000 dialogues, VocalIQ already began to get much more precise. Once the process was completed, VocalIQ had filed about 10,000 dialogues from Mechanical Turk contractors.
Siri takes in 1 billion queries every week from users to help it get better. But VocalIQ was able to learn with just a few thousand questions and still beat Siri.
VocalIQ may sound related to Hound, a new digital assistant app that launched on iPhone and Android lately, but Hound only works one session at a time. VocalIQ remembers context permanently, just like a human can. That’s a huge breakthrough.
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Let’s take that the Chinese restaurant example. Imagine if you change your mind an hour later? Just tell something like “Find me a Mexican restaurant instead,” will show you new results, while still taking into account the other details like parking and WiFi you mentioned before. But using Hound, Siri, and any other assistant would make you begin the search session over again. But VocalIQ remembers. That’s more human-like than anything accessible today.
Because VocalIQ understands meaning so well, it actually eliminates the need to look at a mobile for confirmation that it’s doing what you want it to do. That’s helpful on the phone, but could be even beneficial for other ambitious plans like the car or smart speaker system Apple is reportedly creating. VocalIQ was being pitched as a voice commanded AI platform for cars before Apple bought the company. VocalIQ only considers itself a success when the mobile user is able to complete a task without staring at a screen. Siri, Cortana, and Google Now usually ask you to approve tasks by tapping on the screen.
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VocalIQ’s platform is also flexible enough to be programmed for anything you want to do. Apple would be able to instruct Siri to do everything much better using VocalIQ.
VocalIQ can also filter out the extraneous sound to figure out exactly what you’re saying, thus making it more precise than Siri is today. It’s able to take in all the noise in surroundings like TV, kids shouting, whatever and determine with a high probability which noise is actually the user’s query. It can even learn to adjust to different pronunciations over time to improve efficiency. If you’ve ever had trouble getting Siri to know your words, then you know how important this is.
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It’s still unclear when Apple thinks to implement more of VocalIQ’s skills into Siri, it may happen slowly over time, so as not to throw off users with a radical difference. But it seems like Apple is arming itself for an important shift in how Siri works. Apple declined to comment.
Siri is about to get some other changes this year. Apple will open up Siri to developers, alike to the way Amazon has started up its Alexa assistant. That means third-party apps will let you start using your voice for some tasks. For example “Siri, call me an Uber,”
Lately, there have been doubts about Apple’s artificial intelligence works. At its big yearly conference in May, Google showed off some interesting new techniques for its AI, including Google Home, and a smart speaker with its digital assistant inbuilt. Marco Arment, a well-known developer in the tech community, wrote on his blog that if Apple slips to keep up with AI and voice-powered programs take off, the company risks suffering the same outcome as BlackBerry.