Me: Hey, Siri? When is the next presidential debate?
Siri: The third 2016 presidential debate will take place from 9 pm to 10:30 pm ET on Wednesday, Oct 19 at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Me: Who's moderating?
Siri: From Wikipedia - In nuclear engineering, a neutron moderator is a medium that reduces the speed of fast neutrons, thereby turning them into thermal neutrons capable of ...
What? Anyone who has used Siri knows that Apple's intelligent assistant isn't all that smart. In fact, it has become the butt of jokes for some and just ignored by others because it's just not accurate or fast enough. But help is on the way.
According to Mac Rumors and his own tweet, Apple has just named Carnegie Mellon University professor Russ Salakhutdinov as the new Director of AI Research at Apple. He will be charged with making Siri smarter at a time Amazon's Alexa and Google's Assistant are gaining ground.
Siri likely won't just be inside your iPhone, MacBook or iPad going forward. Apple is rumored to be working on a smart speaker that's similar to the Amazon Echo, and it's looking to integrate its software more deeply into vehicles via Project Titan.
As reported by Technology Review, Salakhutdinov "researches very large neural networks used in a technology called deep learning, which lets a computer learn to perform a difficult task by consuming copious training examples."
Hiring Salakhutdinov could help give Siri improved language understanding, as well as learn from unstructured data on the Web. So instead of Siri simply delivering Wikipedia results, the assistant could conceivably scan those results and spit out a contextually relevant answer.
It's not that Siri can't learn. In the above example about the election and who's moderating, Apple's assistant sort of got the answer right the second time I asked the same series of questions. It merely surfaced search results from Bing, so I still needed to click on those results to find out that Chris Wallace would be moderating.
Salakhutdinov's team could also potentially help catch Google and its ability to do things like caption images automatically. Siri can show you pictures based on location and who's in them, but it can't go that far. And Google already has a smart speaker on the way in Google Home that will put its assistant in more places.