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Tom Simonite

A View from Tom Simonite

Apple Looks to Improve Siri’s Script

“Character-driven dialogue” will help the virtual assistant evolve, says an Apple job ad.

  • January 15, 2013

Apple’s virtual assistant Siri may have its roots in a Pentagon-funded artificial intelligence research project, but algorithms aren’t everything and the Cupertino company is now turning to writers to make Siri smarter. A job ad posted by Apple on LinkedIn appeals for:

“[S]omeone who combines a love for language, wordplay, and conversation with demonstrated experience in bringing creative content to life within an intense technical environment.”

They’ll need “experience in writing character-driven dialog”, a good vocabulary, and ideally knowledge of more than one language. The end result, says the ad, will “evolve and enrich Siri…known for ‘her’ wit, cultural knowledge, and zeal to explain things in engaging, funny, and practical ways.”

Many of the changes Apple made to Siri when it bought the technology from the startup of the same name were in a similar vein. As my colleague Will Knight wrote in an in depth look at how Siri is designed: “Siri may not be the smartest AI in the world but it’s the most socially adept.” Giving the system a style that suggests tact, charm, and even wit makes its limitations and errors easier to bear (see “Social Intelligence”).

That approach isn’t unique to Apple. In recent years winners of the Loebner Prize, in which chatbots try to convince judges they are human, have often been those that use relatively simple tactics focused on humor and mimicry rather than deep learning.

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