Apple employees hate Siri and are skeptical of its future
A new report from The Information today goes in-depth on the apparent chaos inside teams at Apple working on Siri and artificial intelligence. According to the story, “organizational dysfunction and a lack of ambition” have plagued Apple’s efforts to improve Siri and the backend technology that powers it.
This dysfunction has led to Apple falling further and further behind competitors like OpenAI, Microsoft, and Google, leading some Apple employees to question the future.
Today’s report is based on “interviews with more than three dozen former Apple employees who worked in its AI and machine learning groups.” The report follows a similar story from The New York Times earlier this month, which explained how Siri is built on a “clunky” database that ultimately leads to it taking “weeks” for Siri to be updated with “basic features.”
One of the major problems facing the Siri team, which is led by former Google executive John Giannandrea, is employee retention. According to that The Information, Apple lost three of its Siri engineers to Google: Srinivasan Venkatachary, Steven Baker, and Anand Shukla. These employees initially joined Apple in 2019, when Apple acquired their startup Laserlike.
These three engineers had been working on Siri search features but were swayed by Google as they believed the company would be a better place to work on large language models, or LLMs. This is the technology behind platforms like Google Bard and ChatGPT.
The report today explains that Google wanted these three engineers “badly enough that its CEO, Sundar Pichai, personally wooed the group.” On Apple’s side, CEO Tim Cook also “tried to persuade them to stay,” but was ultimately unsuccessful.
Inside Apple, this report suggests that “Siri remains widely derided” by employees. At one point, the team working on Apple’s Reality Pro headset reportedly became so frustrated with Siri that it considered “building alternative methods” for controlling the headset with voice technology.
Inside Apple, Siri remains widely derided for its lack of functionality and improvements since Giannandrea took over, say multiple former Siri employees. For example, the team building Apple’s mixed-reality headset, including its leader Mike Rockwell, has expressed disappointment in the demonstrations the Siri team created to showcase how the voice assistant could control the headset, according to two people familiar with the matter. At one point, Rockwell’s team considered building alternative methods for controlling the device using voice commands, the people said (the headset team ultimately ditched that idea).
One of the bottlenecks faced by Siri is that “top executives” at Apple are wary of Siri making major gaffes in its responses. This, as we’ve seen in regards to ChatGPT, can lead to embarrassing headlines and overall bad press for a platform.
In an all-hands meeting, leaders of Apple’s AI and machine-learning team addressed the tensions, agreeing that mistakes were bound to happen and that it was their job to educate Apple’s top executives about how machine-learning models improve. In one example, Giannandrea and the search team led by Venkatachary were finally able to reach a compromise with the Siri design team by creating a button that allowed users to report a concern or an issue with the content of a Siri answer, a former Siri employee said.
In fact, multiple incidents that have affected Siri have led to employees being “skeptical” that Apple will ever be successful in matching the technology behind things like ChatGPT:
The incidents explain why many former employees in Apple’s AI group are skeptical that the company will be successful in developing the next wave of AI products based on LLMs. The company’s senior leaders haven’t shown much stomach for the kinds of headline-grabbing gaffes ChatGPT and similar services have stumbled into over the last several months.
The full report from The Information is well worth a read. It offers a comprehensive look at the current state of Siri and how Apple engineers are working to improve the platform, despite some of the baggage and internal strife.
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