Bumpy Siri development: team chaos, power struggles and limitations

Internal differences in the responsible teams, various power struggles among executives, overly conservative attitudes towards new AI technology and the emigration of specialists are said to have led to the rather bumpy further development of the virtual assistant called Siri at Apple in recent years. The team working on the mixed reality headset is said to have even considered developing its own voice control for the new device because Siri does not offer the necessary capabilities. This is all according to a report Wayne Ma wrote for The Information.

The further development of Siri is not only seen as too slow from the outside. There are also many problems and ridicule internally. At Apple, further developments and modernizations of language assistance seem to be actively prevented.
The further development of Siri is not only seen as too slow from the outside. There are also many problems and ridicule internally. At Apple, further developments and modernizations of language assistance seem to be actively prevented.

Chaos, strife, and limitations in Siri development

Unfortunately, I can't afford all the subscriptions it would take to always pull all the information from all paywall primary sources. In the case of Contribution "Apple's Siri Chief Struggles as New AI Era BeginsBut that doesn't matter about the Siri problems at Apple. Because e.g. B. MacRumors has taken on the topic and put some details in their own Article summarized. Accordingly, journalist Wayne Ma spoke to several people who have worked for Apple on Siri and other AI tools in recent years. These report on power struggles, poor organization and backward attitudes towards current AI development. Even within Apple, Siri is said to get a lot of ridicule.

In 2018 there should already have been disputes about the direction in which Siri should actually develop. This could not be clarified, among other things, because executives delivered a turf war and the entire Siri development was a mess. In addition, no investments were made in the usage analysis, so further development could not be based on the actual use of Siri. So, when it was actively developed, it was developed without the users, so that resentment and ridicule also reached the Siri team from outside. So it's no wonder that several of the Siri team's developers sooner or later left Apple.

This is said to have been due to slow decision-making processes and the lack of inclusion of modern AI options. Large language models, which are used to develop ChatGPT or similar tools, for example, were proposed for the further development of Siri, but rejected by more conservative executives. A feature was also nipped in the bud that would allow conversations with Siri (i.e. questions, answers, follow-up questions and answers that build on the whole). This function was dismissed as a gimmick on the one hand and too difficult to control on the other. Further developments were slowed down by the fact that Siri works more and more locally on the individual device than on a server.

Siri on iPhone: Tips and tricks for questions, answers, and accessibility features

Project Blackbird, mixed reality headset and migration to Google

The fact that several teams at Apple are competing in similar areas at the same time seems not only to have been the case with the LISA computer and the Macintosh. In 2019, too, there were said to have been two large teams in the area of ​​Siri development. One was dedicated to a new version of Siri, which was codenamed "Blackbird". Siri should be completely rewritten as part of the project and new features should be submitted by app developers. Another part of the project was that Siri should run locally on the iPhone instead of in iCloud. Blackbird Siri is said to have been a success internally and met with enthusiasm.

However, there was also the competing team working on Siri X. The X stands for the Roman 10 and the team was tasked with handling the development of the XNUMXth anniversary edition of the virtual assistant. Siri X was driven by two senior executives from the Siri department, which is why this project was given more weight. The main goal of Siri X was actually only to implement Siri processing locally for data protection reasons. So basically a part of the Blackbird project, which was ultimately rejected nonetheless. Hundreds of people from the Blackbird project were called to Siri X and their ambitions were dashed.

Siri is also said to be part of the mixed reality headset, whose presentation for the WWDC23 is expected. The quick control of the headset for VR and AR through voice input makes sense, but is not supposed to work as well as the team developing the device would like. It was even considered to develop a completely own voice control that has nothing to do with Siri. There are said to have been similar problems with the Siri modernization team. Since the people there were dissatisfied and slowed down, they migrated to Google, where they developed language models that are currently used e.g. B. form the foundation of ChatGPT development.

Conclusion on the Siri development report at Apple

The fact that Apple prefers to run Siri locally instead of sending the language assistant to the in-house server via the Internet is of course a good thing because of data protection. However, it is sobering that this is only the minimum of what is possible and that Blackbird has been able to provide a much larger scope of services with room for developer adjustments for years. And only because of internal power struggles. 

Furthermore, it is absolutely understandable that multi-stage conversations with Siri would be difficult to control and therefore questionable expenses would have to be feared. However, the fact that the complete further development with large language models was slowed down is not exactly beneficial either. Some fears are therefore understandable, but the resulting restrictions have led to too great a backlog over the years.

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