- Ex-Apple engineer John Burkey told NYT that voice assistant Siri may never be as robust as ChatGPT.
- Burkey said that Siri’s clunky design and limited dataset makes it difficult to update its features.
- Generative AI tools like ChatGPT threaten to make voice assistant tech obsolete.
Apple’s voice assistant Siri doesn’t stand a chance of being as powerful as OpenAI’s ChatGPT, a former Apple employee told The New York Times.
John Burkey, an ex-Apple engineer who was tasked to improve Siri in 2014 and left the company in 2016, said that Siri’s clunky design makes it difficult to add new features.
Siri is able to answer simple queries like “What’s the weather?” and “Can you play this song?” by drawing from a database with a large stockpile of words such as restaurant locations and musician names, Burkey said. As a result, Siri can only understand a limited number of requests, which means that engineers must add new words to its database to expand its capabilities, he told the Times.
But Burkey, who calls Siri’s database “one big snowball,” said that adding new phrases could take up to six weeks as a complete overhaul of the database is required. Integrating more ChatGPT-like advanced features such as search could take about a year. Even updating Siri’s basic features, he said, could take weeks because of its outdated, convoluted code.
Apple did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment ahead of publication. Burkey did not immediately respond when contacted by Insider for further comment.
Burkey’s views on Siri come as the wildly popular AI chatbot ChatGPT — which now runs on GPT-4, its most advanced language model yet — threatens to make voice assistant tech obsolete with its impressive capabilities.
Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft which recently poured $10 billion into OpenAI, told The Financial Times this month that voice assistants like Siri and Amazon’s Alexa are “dumb as a rock.”
Siri’s co-creator Adam Cheyer would agree. He, too, told FT that ChatGPT’s ability to do things like write essays and develop code make existing voice assistants look stupid. “The previous capabilities have just been too awkward,” Cheyer said.
Siri users have even taken notice, expressing their frustrations on Reddit with questions like “Why is Siri so stupid” and “is Siri getting dumber each year.”
But Siri isn’t the only voice assistant that’s struggling. Insider’s Eugene Kim reported last November that Amazon’s Alexa division is on life support after it saw an operating loss of over $3 billion last year.
“Alexa is a colossal failure of imagination,” one former Amazon employee previously told Insider. “It was a wasted opportunity.”
Like Amazon, Google found it difficult to generate a significant amount of revenue with its assistant, former Amazon and Google managers told the Times. Still, Amazon and Google will continue to build out their voice assistants’ capabilities, representatives from each company said.
As for Apple, employees on its Siri team have reportedly been testing out AI language models, though no products have been announced just yet.