Siri Chief Architect Joins Roku to Lead Tech Development for Smart TV Service
Roku has hired the former chief architect of Siri, Brian Pinkerton, to help develop new software and technology. Pinkerton served at the top of Apple’s Siri team for three years before jumping to the TV set-top device and platform company. Nabbing Pinkerton suggests Roku has some ambitious plans that will benefit from his experience with natural language processing and AI interfaces, just as a new wave of AI-assisted smart TV options are starting to appear.
According to Pinkerton’s new staff bio on Roku, he joined the company to “lead technical innovation and strategic software development.” The brief background mentions his three decades of work in tech, especially “human-centered problems in computer systems and natural language processing.” The bio does leave out his 10 months as chief technology officer for the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, though his LinkedIn page expounds upon how he essentially took it from an idea to a team of almost 100 people and completing an acquisition.
Pinkerton does have a lot of experience in artificial intelligence with regard to search and user interactions, however. Before joining Apple, he was the vice president of search for Amazon, heading up A9.com, Amazon’s first Silicon Valley base after growing beyond Seattle. Siri is often used as a search tool, so joining Apple as the chief architect for the voice assistant was a logical next step. Still, it does seem like he will be doing more than just voice interactions for Roku, which has been keen to expand its range of technological features, including recently adding support for Apple AirPlay and the HomeKit smart home platform. Roku has also been pushing to grow its streaming platform, the Roku Channel. Roku taught its voice assistant to understand Spanish and extended Alexa and Google Assistant support on its platform to new countries earlier this year. The company is also partnering with more TV manufacturers to integrate the software into their products, especially entry-level smart televisions.
Smart TV Competition
While Roku’s specific plans for Pinkerton are not clear yet, the general goal of augmenting its smart TV platform with better AI search capabilities and improved NLP fits with a recent flurry of new and improved smart TV virtual assistants. Google and Amazon have both recently released new set-top devices for Chromecast and Fire TV, respectively, and added additional features to Google Assistant and Alexa for smart TV users. Internationally, Roku is facing new competition in several countries. Last month saw Russian search engine giant Yandex taking a page from its American rivals by adding its Alice voice assistant to its smart TV platform. At the same time, Australia’s largest television subscription service, Foxtel, upgraded its smart TV service by adding TiVo’s voice search platform. European telecoms are looking at a similar idea from a different starting point. SFR in France and Vodafone in Spain debuted smart speakers with unique voice assistants over the last few weeks that can act independently yet are deeply integrated with their smart TV platforms.