Siri's Multiple Language Support Still Its Biggest Strength Over Other Virtual Assistants

Reuters published an article on Thursday that reveals some of the painstaking work that goes into making Siri capable of speaking additional languages, which remains one of its biggest strengths over rival virtual assistants.

The behind-the-scenes look appears amid claims that Apple has squandered its lead in the voice-assistant space, with Amazon, Google, and Microsoft all advancing the features of their respective assistants recently.

But for a smartphone market in which most sales are outside the U.S., Siri's big advantage over the other assistants is underlined in the number of languages it can speak. Microsoft is said to have an editorial team of 29 people who work to customize Cortana for local markets, while Google and Amazon say they plan to add more languages soon. But it's a game of catch-up: Apple already has 21 languages, localized for 36 countries. That compares favorably to Microsoft's Cortana (eight), Google Assistant (four), and Amazon's Alexa (two).

At Apple, the company starts working on a new language by bringing in humans to read passages in a range of accents and dialects, which are then transcribed by hand so the computer has an exact representation of the spoken text to learn from, said Alex Acero, head of the speech team at Apple. Apple also captures a range of sounds in a variety of voices. From there, a language model is built that tries to predict words sequences.

Then Apple deploys “dictation mode,” its text-to-speech translator, in the new language, Acero said. When customers use dictation mode, Apple captures a small percentage of the audio recordings and makes them anonymous. The recordings, complete with background noise and mumbled words, are transcribed by humans, a process that helps cut the speech recognition error rate in half.

Once the required amount of data has been gathered and a voice actor has recorded the Siri responses in a new language, Siri is released with answers to what Apple believes will be the most common questions. Siri then learns more about what users ask, with additional tweaks made via updates every two weeks.

The drawback to Apple's script-writing approach is that it does not scale, according to Charles Jolley, creator of an intelligent assistant named Oslo. "You can't hire enough writers to come up with the system you'd need in every language. You have to synthesize the answers," he told Reuters. "That's years off."

But it's something the founders of Viv – Siri's original creators – are actively working on. "Viv was built to specifically address the scaling issue for intelligent assistants," said Dag Kittlaus, the CEO and co-founder of Viv, which was acquired by Samsung last year. "The only way to leapfrog today's limited functionality versions is to open the system up and let the world teach them."

Consumers should soon get a taste of how far they've come. Viv technology will power Bixby, Samsung's new virtual assistant, set to feature in the Galaxy S8, which launches at the end of this month.

Top Rated Comments

(View all)
Avatar
46 months ago
Siri: misunderstanding you in 21 languages.
Score: 24 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
46 months ago
That's why when I totally naturally task Siri to "Weck mich um neun" (wake me up at nine) it will ask me in return "Welchen Weg möchtest du gehen?" (Which way do you want to go?)

Siri is pisspoor in German imho. You have to very presicely use keywords in order for Siri to recognize what you what. Speak naturally to it my ass.
Score: 21 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
46 months ago
more like it's only strength ;)
Score: 20 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
46 months ago
I want to be able to speak in multiple languages in the same sentence. This is necessary for asking Siri to send a text message -- maybe in a foreign language -- to friends with foreign names, or to ask for directions in a foreign country.
Score: 16 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
46 months ago
Improves every two weeks?
I only use four / five commands to Siri.
And apart from setting alarm, it usually makes silly mistakes in interpreting what I am asking for even though I have been repeating the same requests for the past 2 year!
Score: 16 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
46 months ago
So, what we're saying is Siri may be a multilingual idiot, but at least she's multilingual.
Score: 15 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Top Stories

iPhone 12 Lineup Rumored to Be Named 'iPhone 12 mini,' 'iPhone 12,' 'iPhone 12 Pro,' and 'iPhone 12 Pro Max'

Monday September 21, 2020 5:24 am PDT by
Leaker known as "L0vetodream" has today shared the alleged naming for the upcoming iPhone 12 lineup on Twitter. The tweet proposes that the upcoming iPhone 12 models will be titled "iPhone 12 mini," "iPhone 12," "iPhone 12 Pro," and "iPhone 12 Pro Max." The names likely correspond to the three expected sizes of iPhone 12, with the 5.4-inch model being the iPhone 12 mini, the 6.7-inch model ...

iOS 14 Widgets Offer iPhone Users Creative Home Screen Ideas

Sunday September 20, 2020 8:43 pm PDT by
Updated on September 22nd with hands on video. In iOS 14, Apple introduced ‌the concept of Home Screen‌ widgets, which provide information from apps at a glance. Widgets can be pinned to the Home Screen in various spots and sizes, allowing for many different layouts. Despite the relative lack of...

Hands-On With iOS 14 Widgets, Custom Icons, and Home Screen Setup

Tuesday September 22, 2020 3:25 pm PDT by
Apple with iOS 14 introduced widgets on the Home Screen, leading to unprecedented levels of customization for the iPhone. Combined with Shortcuts that let you change an app's icon, iOS 14 lets you create a whole new look for your Home Screen. Subscribe to the MacRumors YouTube channel for more videos. We've been following along with some of the creative alternative Home Screen designs that M...

PSA: New Apple Watch Owners Have to Return Entire Device for Ill-Fitting Solo Loop or Braided Solo Loop

Monday September 21, 2020 3:26 pm PDT by
With the Apple Watch Series 6, Apple introduced two new band options, the Solo Loop and the Braided Solo Loop. These new bands are unique because they have no clasps, buckles, or other fasteners, and instead use a stretch design to allow them to pull onto the wrist over the hand. Because these bands are not adjustable, Apple sells each one in nine different sizes to make sure each person...

Apple's iPhone 12 Event Could Happen on October 13 Based on Rumors From Mobile Operators

Wednesday September 23, 2020 11:51 am PDT by
Apple's upcoming iPhone-centric event could perhaps be held on Tuesday, October 13, according to information shared with MacRumors by an employee at a UK cellular carrier. There's no way for us to confirm the dates at this point in time nor are we sure on the credibility of the source, but even without a rumor, Tuesday, October 13 is a good guess based on Apple's historic launch timelines, ...

New Images Leak of iPhone 12 Braided USB-C to Lightning Cable

Thursday September 24, 2020 2:37 am PDT by
Rumors suggest Apple's upcoming iPhone 12 models will ship with a new Lightning to USB-C cable that includes a braided fabric design. Images of the purported cables were leaked in July, and today leaker Mr White has shared new images that give us a closer look at what we might get included in the iPhone 12 box. The photos show a USB-C to Lightning cable with a clearly braided design rather...

Interest in iOS 14 Home Screen Ideas Helps Pinterest Break Daily Download Record

Wednesday September 23, 2020 4:37 am PDT by
Apple's introduction of widgets on the Home Screen in iOS 14 has driven a surge in interest among users looking to customize their iPhone, and that has reportedly had a knock-on effect for Pinterest, whose iOS app has seen record downloads as users flock to its content seeking design inspiration. As reported by TechCrunch, App Store intelligence firm Apptopia was first to note the impact of ...

Apple Releases First Public Betas of iOS 14.2 and iPadOS 14.2 With New Shazam Control Center Options

Monday September 21, 2020 10:34 am PDT by
Apple today seeded the first public betas of upcoming iOS 14.2 and iPadOS 14.2 updates to its public beta testing group, a few days after seeding the first betas to developers and a little less than a week after releasing the iOS 14 and iPadOS 14 updates. Public beta testers who have signed up for Apple's beta testing program can download the iOS and iPadOS‌ 14.2 updates over the air after ...

Apple Emphasizes That Solo Loop May Increase in Length Over Time, Updates Sizing Guide With More Specific Instructions

Wednesday September 23, 2020 8:26 am PDT by
Apple on Tuesday updated one of its support documents to emphasize that the new silicone rubber Solo Loop for the Apple Watch may increase in length over time, as mentioned in fine print at the bottom of the Solo Loop product page. Apple has also updated its printable Solo Loop sizing guide with more specific instructions, as noted by 9to5Mac's Michael Steeber. The guide now advises users to ...

Microsoft Announces Outlook for Mac Redesign, Improvements to iOS and watchOS Apps

Tuesday September 22, 2020 8:56 am PDT by
Microsoft has today announced plans to bring a new design to its Outlook for Mac app along with several other improvements and features for Outlook on iOS and watchOS. In preparation for the public release of macOS Big Sur, Microsoft has been testing a new design for Outlook on Mac. The design includes Microsoft's Fluent icons and several design cues from Big Sur such as rounded corners....