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.