For the last few months, Apple has been manning a secretive office in the Boston, Massachusetts area. What are they doing there? Today, Xconomy says they have an answer. According to industry sources, the Cupertino corporation has assembled a remote team of “notable names” in the speech recognition space, purportedly to work on improvements to Siri, Apple’s voice assistant technology.
Besides the obvious hiring potential that comes with running an office near MIT, there is some interesting evidence as to why Apple has chosen this location for their speech recognition team. Nuance, a speech technology company that has helped power Siri since its introduction in iOS 5, is headquartered in Burlington, Massachusetts.
Interestingly, though, 9to5Mac notes that Siri isn’t dependent on Nuance in particular. The service is “speech recognition component is modular,” according to an interview with Siri co-founder Norman Winarsky in 2011. “Theoretically, if a better speech recognition comes along (or Apple buys one), they could likely replace Nuance without too much trouble,” he said.
Companies commonly will base their own teams near those of suppliers of other technology, and Apples team is suitably comprised of previous employees of VoiceSignal Technologies, a speech software company purchased by Nuance in 2007. Listed as now on Apple’s team are Gunnar Evermann, who lists his position as “manager, Siri Speech,” Larry Gillick, previous VP of Research at Nuance, who’s job title is “chief speech scientist, Siri,” and Don McCallister, listed as a “senior research scientist” who joined Apple in 2012.
Still, no one can know for sure what Apple is having this team work on. “They won’t tell us what they’re doing,” Jim Glass, who heads MIT’s Spoken Language Systems Group, told Xconomy. “We can only guess.” It wouldn’t be absurd though, to consider this another move on Apple’s part to become more autonomous in its technologies – moving away from Google Maps with iOS 6 is a good example. And, as I mentioned above, Siri isn’t necessarily dependent on Nuance. Apple could easily replace it with its own technology.
While Apple could very well be working on a Nuace replacement, the company has been moving to improve Siri in many ways since its introduction. This tight-knit group of speech recognition experts could very well simply be working on improving Nuace’s integration into the already-existing Siri. Or, as one can hope, they could be working on APIs that will allow developers to use the technology within their own apps – that would open up some exciting new opportunities.