Apple Had No Choice But to Release Siri in Beta

Siri logo

Siri – Apple’s revolutionary intelligent personal assistant feature has received rave reviews, but at the same time has received quite a bit of criticism for the downtimes and it’s inability to respond to everything that you throw at it.

Apple has acknowledged some of the shortcomings, but has highlighted that the feature is currently in beta.

If you have closely followed Apple then you probably might be wondering why did Apple launch Siri in beta.

Ex-IBM Research engineer Benoit Maison who has worked on speech recognition for six years has written an interesting article, which explains why Apple had no choice but to release Siri in beta as it could not have been fine tuned and thoroughly tested in the labs like their iOS devices and software updates.

“I worked on speech recognition with IBM Research for nearly six years. We participated in DARPA-sponsored research projects, field trials, and actual product development for various applications: dictation, call centers , automotive, even a classroom assistant for the hearing impaired. The basic story was always the same: get us more data! (data being in this case transcribed speech recordings). There is even a saying in the speech community: “there is no data like more data.” Some researchers have argued that most of the recent improvements in speech recognition accuracy can be credited to having more and better data, not to better algorithms.

He goes on to add:

It is tempting to consider Siri as some kind of artificial intelligence, who, once trained properly, can answer all sorts of questions.  The reality is that it is a very complex patchwork of subsystems, many of which handcrafted.

To improve Siri, engineers must painstakingly look at the requests that she could not understand (in all languages!) and come up with new rules to cope with them. There are probably many, many gaps like “abortion clinic” in the current implementation, which will be fixed over time. When Apple states “we find places where we can do better, and we will in the coming weeks”, they are plainly describing how this process works.

Maison also points out that if rumors of Siri-enabled Apple Television in 2012 are to be believed then the experience gained by releasing Siri on iPhone 4S would also be very useful as “far-field speech recognition is notoriously more difficult than with close-talking microphones”.

Hopefully this will address some of your concerns about Apple releasing a beta product. Unlike some companies, Apple seldom releases a beta product, but it is quite clear in this case it didn’t have a choice. Apple could however improve things on the stability front and avoid the downtimes to reduce the frustration.

The problem is that we’re all used to Apple delivering features that just work and find it hard to accept that Siri doesn’t work every time. But we’ve used quite a few voice recognition software before and seeing how competing products perform, we feel that Siri is still one of the killer features of the iPhone 4S and years ahead of its competition.

What has been your experience with Siri? Do you use it extensively? We would love to hear from you in the comments below.

[Maison’s blog via Daring Fireball]