Apple is Hiring Siri Language Experts Ahead of International Expansion in Europe and Asia
Apple is looking for experts in nearly a dozen European and Asian languages to become Siri Annotation Analysts and help teach the voice assistant how to communicate in those tongues. The jobs advertised in Apple’s Cork, Ireland, and Singapore offices, would likely lay the groundwork for Apple to bring Siri-supported devices to the countries where the languages are spoken.
The new advertisements from Apple’s Cork office ask for people fluent in Czech, Croatian, Flemish, Greek, Hungarian, Polish, Romanian, Slovak, and Ukrainian. In Singapore, the requests are for Indonesian and Vietnamese speakers. According to the Siri Annotation Analyst job description, those hired will listen to bits of conversation with Siri in their respective languages, transcribing them and analyzing how well the voice assistant performed and how it could do better using their “language and cultural knowledge.”
At the moment, Siri operates in 37 countries and offers the more natural-sounding neural text-to-speech voice in only about a dozen of them, limited to just English, French, German, Spanish, and Chinese, depending on the country. Siri either doesn’t operate in the countries where the languages listed in the new jobs are spoken or doesn’t count that language as one of the choices as in the case of Belgium and Flemish. If the job listings indicate new markets for Siri, Apple has big ambitions for the Balkans and other new territories. It will be a few steps ahead of major rivals in the voice assistant space like Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, but it won’t be the first option in all of those countries.
The MAIC (pronounced ‘Mike’) voice assistant platform by Greek tech developer Making Life Simple (MLS) Innovation runs on Google’s Android operating system but speaks Greek, Serbian, Albanian, and Bulgarian. MLS partners with local telecom firms to sell its products, but the software and hardware are all developed by the company exclusively. Like most voice assistants, MAIC can set up calls and messages, answer questions, perform navigation, and launch apps installed on the platform. It can also run smart home devices, understanding the relevant terms and names in each language. Smaller European countries have generally lacked native language options for voice assistants, relying on English or one of the other tongues spoken internationally. But, MAIC’s success speaks to the appeal of speaking with a voice assistant in their first language.
The other notable aspect of the job ads is that they are internal Apple jobs. Where these roles would have once been handled by third-party contractors, Apple has moved them in-house as a result of the controversy over their earlier practice being perceived as a violation of privacy and user security. That’s also why the audio used by the future Siri analysts is supposed to come from people who agree to have some of their conversations with Siri recorded explicitly for that purpose. Almost every voice assistant platform faced similar scrutiny for their evaluation programs. They paused or rapidly revised their contractor programs. Apple apologized for its program and changed it to an opt-in system when it removed contractors from the equation.
That said, regulators are likely to watch the new language programs carefully. Ireland’s Data Protection Commissioner (DPC) recently started discussing potential privacy violations by Apple over Siri after Thomas le Bonniec sent a letter to European data protection regulators explaining that he didn’t think Apple had changed its behavior. Le Bonniec is also the original whistle-blower who alleged that Apple contractors heard recordings made by Siri, and he claimed that Apple’s behavior hasn’t actually changed since then and that stricter enforcement is necessary.