Fea­ture

Esquire (Singapore) - - Port­fo­lio -

It’s Siri help­ing you through proac­tive learn­ing; au­to­mat­i­cally cre­at­ing a vir­tual con­tact by gather­ing data from your texts and emails. Ever won­dered how an iPad is able to dif­fer­en­ti­ate be­tween your rest­ing palm on the screen and your typ­ing fin­gers? Ma­chine learn­ing. No­tice how your calendar is pop­u­lated with ap­point­ments that you haven’t per­son­ally en­tered? It’s Siri again, pow­ered by AI tech­nol­ogy.

The fact that we don’t even re­alise that Siri is at work, qui­etly churn­ing away in the back­ground, is tes­ta­ment to the suc­cess of ma­chine learn­ing—seam­less and unob­tru­sive, all de­signed to en­hance our user ex­pe­ri­ence. And crit­i­cal to that ex­pe­ri­ence is pri­vacy.

As much as pos­si­ble, data col­lected about our daily lives, habits and pref­er­ences, is stored on the lo­cal de­vices them­selves. Per­sonal in­for­ma­tion such as con­tacts, browsed web pages and the con­tent of text mes­sages. Where non-per­sonal in­for­ma­tion is shared on the server for col­lec­tive learn­ing (think: clus­ter­ing of Siri re­quests by cat­e­gory), these are en­crypted to en­sure a user’s Ap­ple ID is never re­vealed.

On the new iOS 11, ma­chine learn­ing by Siri is synced across your Ap­ple de­vices (that are signed into iCloud) to help cre­ate a per­son­alised ex­pe­ri­ence across your net­work; but, at the same time, is pro­tected by end-to-end en­cryp­tion to keep that in­for­ma­tion pri­vate to each user and their de­vices.

It comes as no sur­prise that we pre­dom­i­nantly use Siri to com­plete tasks:

Hey Siri, send a mes­sage to Eu­gene Lim that the cover shoot is a go for to­mor­row. Hey Siri, set an alarm for 6am. Set an­other alarm at 6.15am. Hey Siri, how do I get to Ty­er­sall Park in the Botanic Gar­dens? Hey Siri, play dance mu­sic on the HomePod. Not Tay­lor Swift. Hey Siri, set a re­minder to send a thank you note to Henry Gold­ing for the shoot. BUT WHAT AB OUT THE NOT-SO-WELL-KNOWN BEN­E­FITS OF S I R I ? On Ap­ple TV, if you missed an ac­tor’s line, sim­ply ask Siri: “What did he say?” and she will re­play the scene with sub­ti­tles. For­got­ten where you parked your car? Ask Siri: “Where did I park my car?” and, as long as your iPhone was con­nected to your car’s Blue­tooth while you were driv­ing, Siri would’ve dropped a vir­tual pin at the lo­ca­tion when your iPhone dis­con­nected from your car’s Blue­tooth sys­tem, and sub­se­quently, direct you back to your ve­hi­cle. Don’t know what to ask Siri but want to see AI in ac­tion? Swipe right on your iPhone’s home screen to pull up Siri’s app sug­ges­tions—all tai­lored to you based on the cur­rent time, your lo­ca­tion and your us­age his­tory. Or sim­ply ask Siri: “What can I ask you?” and she will show you a list of ac­tions spe­cific to the apps that you have on your de­vice. Bril­liant.

Even when users are feel­ing a bit down and out, Siri is here to help. Through ma­chine learn­ing to de­tect a user’s mood, Siri can recog­nise sui­ci­dal in­ten­tions and can direct that user to the rel­e­vant help cen­tres or hot­lines. Now that’s smart tech in ac­tion.

There is a ten­dency for tech com­pa­nies to look at the tech­nol­ogy they have in hand and then try to find a use for it. You have a ham­mer and you go out look­ing for nails. But Ap­ple re­verses that men­tal­ity. With AI pow­er­ing Siri, the fo­cus is on how to im­prove the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the user and the de­vice in or­der to solve prob­lems. How do we help peo­ple to do things they don’t want to do—or things they aren’t able to do, in the con­text of im­paired users—in or­der to make life bet­ter? It’s tech­nol­ogy as a self-think­ing tool. AI has an in­dis­pens­able aide. Siri as a Ter­mi­na­tor, not to an­ni­hi­late hu­man ex­is­tence, but to en­rich the hu­man ex­pe­ri­ence. But let’s just make sure there’s a kill switch if things start to get freaky; we don’t want Siri in­cit­ing a nu­clear holo­caust in the name of “log­i­cal” planet preser­va­tion. We al­ready have enough hu­man tyrants to deal with, let alone an ar­ti­fi­cially in­tel­li­gent per­sonal as­sis­tant. Com­mand+Op­tion+Esc.

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