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

iOS 9 SiriReuters 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

Scottsoapbox Avatar
69 months ago
Siri: misunderstanding you in 21 languages.
Score: 24 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Galatian Avatar
69 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)
Nozuka Avatar
69 months ago
more like it's only strength ;)
Score: 20 Votes (Like | Disagree)
allenvanhellen Avatar
69 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)
thasan Avatar
69 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)
longofest Avatar
69 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)

Popular Stories

2022 back to school apple

Apple Launches 2022 Back to School Offer: Up to $150 Gift Card With Mac or iPad

Friday June 24, 2022 5:08 am PDT by
Apple today launched its annual "Back to School" promotion for college/university students in the United States and Canada. This year's promotion offers a free Apple gift card with the purchase of an eligible Mac or iPad, rather than free AirPods like last year. Apple is also offering students 20% off AppleCare+ plans during the promotion. Apple is offering a $150 gift card with the purchase ...
airpods pro 2 1

AirPods Pro 2 Said to Feature Upgraded H1 Chip, Find My, Heart Rate Detection, USB-C and More

Friday June 24, 2022 9:48 am PDT by
The next-generation AirPods Pro could come with a long list of new features that include heart rate detection, the ability to function as a hearing aid, and a USB-C port according to a report from 52Audio. The site claims that it has received new information on the AirPods Pro 2, and it has used that information to provide some renders on what the earbuds might look like. Design wise, there...
m2 mac mini screen feature

Gurman: Apple Planning M2 Pro Mac Mini, New Apple TV With A14 Chip, Revamped HomePod With S8 Chip, and More

Sunday June 26, 2022 6:31 am PDT by
In the latest edition of his Power On newsletter for Bloomberg, Mark Gurman outlined additional M2 Macs on Apple's product roadmap, including new Mac mini models with M2 and M2 Pro chips, new 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro models with M2 Pro and M2 Max chips, and a new Mac Pro tower with M2 Ultra and "M2 Extreme" chips. Following the M2 series of Macs, Gurman said the first M3 series of...
apple ar headset concept 1

Apple Rumored to Announce 'Game-Changer' AR/VR Headset in January 2023

Friday June 24, 2022 2:52 am PDT by
Apple is "likely" to announce its long-rumored mixed-reality headset as soon as January 2023, Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo has reiterated. Concept render based on purported leaked information by Ian Zelbo In a detailed post on Medium, Kuo explained that Apple's headset will be a "game-changer" for the augmented-reality and virtual-reality market. Describing some of the headset's...
widgets ios 16 feature

Gurman: iPhone 14 Pro to Feature Always-On Display Showing iOS 16's New Lock Screen Widgets

Sunday June 26, 2022 7:36 am PDT by
iPhone 14 Pro models are widely expected to feature always-on displays that allow users to view glanceable information without having to tap to wake the screen. In the latest edition of his Power On newsletter for Bloomberg, Mark Gurman said the feature will include support for iOS 16's new Lock screen widgets for weather, fitness, and more. "Like the Apple Watch, the iPhone 14 Pro will be...