Walt Mossberg Calls Siri 'Too Limited and Unreliable' to Compete in 'Coming AI Wars'

iOS-9-SiriThe Verge's Walt Mossberg today wrote a critical article on Apple's Siri personal assistant, exploring the service's shortcomings, mistakes, and inability to answer some simple questions that competing products have no problem with.

Entitled, "Why does Siri seem so dumb?", Mossberg's article, covers several questions Siri couldn't answer, ranging from queries about political candidates to the date of the World Series to the weather in Crete. In each instance, Siri failed to provide the desired information, while Google Now, Google's Siri competitor, was able to answer every single question correctly.

In recent weeks, on multiple Apple devices, Siri has been unable to tell me the names of the major party candidates for president and vice president of the United States. Or when they were debating. Or when the Emmy awards show was due to be on. Or the date of the World Series. When I asked it "What is the weather on Crete?" it gave me the weather for Crete, Illinois, a small village which -- while I'm sure it's great -- isn't what most people mean when they ask for the weather on Crete, the famous Greek island.

According to Mossberg, Apple has fixed many of the above Siri shortcomings thanks to his feedback, and has "stressed" to him that the company is "constantly improving Siri." Apple says it focuses more on tasks like placing phone calls, sending texts, and finding places rather than "long tail" questions, which aren't as popular with iPhone and iPad users. Mossberg speculates that such questions aren't popular anymore because people "just give up" on asking Siri these types of things due to failed responses.

Mossberg also outlines several failures with Siri's cloud-based services, from searching through iMessages to locating photos to finding calendar appointments, drawing the conclusion that Apple has "wasted its lead" with Siri, which is now forced to compete with services from Google, Amazon, and Microsoft. Mossberg believes that Siri "seems stagnant" and is "too limited and unreliable" compared to other services.

Though it may not seem like it, Apple has been putting a lot of effort into improving Siri. Back in August, Apple executives Eddy Cue, Craig Federighi, and Phil Schiller explained that machine learning techniques have cut Siri's error rate by a factor of two, improving understanding. Since 2014, Siri and other on-device features, like the QuickType keyboard, Spotlight, autocorrect, Maps, and more, have been powered by a neural net-based system that is able to provide users with more personalized responses and actions.

Recent rumors suggest Apple aiming to improve Siri's functionality even further in an effort to build the personal assistant into an Echo-like Smart home device that would do things like control smart home accessories. Apple is also said to be working on an "Invisible Hand" initiative that would allow users to fully control their devices through a Siri command, something that could debut within three years.

Mossberg's full article on Siri, which is well worth reading, can be accessed over at The Verge.

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Top Rated Comments

harrisondavies Avatar
100 months ago
Yup. I want Siri to tell me the answer, not direct me to a website to search for an answer. Siri is way behind imo.
Score: 103 Votes (Like | Disagree)
tekchic Avatar
100 months ago
Siri sets my alarms every night, and adds items to my Grocery list in Reminder. That's it. Apart from that, things like "Call my dad" completely confuzzles her where she tries to call ME... yet "Call my father" works fine. No logical sense whatsoever.

I've pretty much given up on Siri because 99% of the time, anything out of the ordinary (timers, reminder items) seem to just get me a snarky, useless response which triggers my nerd rage. :D
Score: 61 Votes (Like | Disagree)
tongxinshe Avatar
100 months ago
The worst part of Siri is not that it being dumb, it's that you have no way to point out its dumbness, via continued conversation!

No real person can guarantee to understand everything at first sight, they get them eventually by piecing together the information collected during the whole conversation.

Me: I want to visit Liz' house.
Siri: There is no one named Lucy in your contacts.
Me: Her full name in my contact is Lizzy Romi.
Siri: I am sorry I don't understand what you mean.
Score: 57 Votes (Like | Disagree)
_mdavenport Avatar
100 months ago
Spot-on, Walt.

I already tweeted his article to Tim Cook. Siri needs to finally graduate from Kindergarten.
Score: 50 Votes (Like | Disagree)
apfelbaum Avatar
100 months ago
In my case he is totally right about "people just gave up" to ask Siri more advanced questions, I just assume it wouldn't be able to answer that.
Score: 49 Votes (Like | Disagree)
mtnDewFTW Avatar
100 months ago
Well, he isn't exactly wrong.
Score: 33 Votes (Like | Disagree)