Apple is Quietly Running a New Speech Study for Siri
Apple is running a study on Siri’s speech capabilities, collecting data from users through a new iOS app. The Siri Speech Study app offers users a chance to share their interactions with Siri and more direct feedback with Apple, though it’s kept off the official charts on the App store.
Siri Speech Study appears to be available in the official App Stores of several countries and was published just a few weeks ago. It’s semi-hidden, not appearing when searching on the App Store or on the list of all apps. The study app only appears when the correct link is used and even then requires participant ID to operate, suggesting Apple is running the study with specific users in mind. There’s no indication of how to sign up or what the company is looking for, though, so it could be a study on almost anything Siri does currently or that Apple is working on making available in the future.
The new app is a kind of opt-in version of the voice data collection that iOS users previously signed up for automatically as part of the terms and conditions almost no one read. The stories in 2019 revealing that contractors were listening to audio recordings made by Siri for quality control and improvement programs caused a furor over privacy and concern that information might be inadvertently shared by people when they didn’t know Siri was listening or who might hear their conversations. Apple had no system for handling that data, so it was possible for people to hear it who should not have. Even a year later, the initial whistleblower was raising alarms that Apple hadn’t changed its ways. Apple was only one of the many voice assistant platforms facing similar scrutiny for their programs. Google and Amazon paused or rapidly revised their contractor programs quickly, and Apple apologized for its program, officially switching to a contractor-free system.
The nature of the study may be unknown, but Apple has been developing improvements to Siri’s speech recognition and conversational ability of late. For instance, Apple researchers are designing a way for Siri to spot when a user is stuttering and how best to adapt and understand what they are saying and creating new methods like Listen Learner to teach the voice assistant different sounds. Apple has also been on a bit of an acquisition spree for AI and machine learning startups such as Inductiv and Voysis. The feedback from those with the study app on the different tests and experiences they have with Siri may shorten the path to those improvements without the optics of privacy complaints, arguably improving Siri’s manners along with its elocution and comprehension.
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