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Can Apple's partnership with OpenAI revive Siri?

Apple, which has been on an overdrive to catch up with the generative AI wave, is integrating ChatGPT into experiences within iOS, iPadOS, and macOS, allowing users--and Siri--to access its capabilities

Naandika Tripathi
Published: Jun 14, 2024 03:36:24 PM IST
Updated: Jun 14, 2024 04:01:17 PM IST

Sam Altman, CEO, OpenAI and Apple CEO Tim Cook. Image: AFPSam Altman, CEO, OpenAI and Apple CEO Tim Cook. Image: AFP

Siri came to life 12 years ago, a day before Steve Jobs passed away. Apple developed the personal assistant application for two years before releasing it as part of the iPhone 4S. The voice-recognition software was built on natural language processing, a subset of artificial intelligence (AI). But Siri couldn’t keep up for long, to the extent that users felt frustrated when it failed to carry out the simplest of tasks.

The first-mover advantage fizzled out, with rivals soon starting to take over. A host of virtual assistants emerged, including Samsung’s S Voice, Google Assistant, Microsoft’s Cortana, and Amazon’s Alexa. These players, available on gadgets beyond mobile phones, offered better language understanding and integration with third-party skills.

The tech giant knew it was time for an overhaul to catch up with the generative AI wave. Apple announced a horde of new artificial intelligence features at its annual Worldwide Developers Conference this week, including a refurbished Siri in partnership with OpenAI’s ChatGPT. The Cupertino-based company may be late to the party, but in hindsight, it has acquired over 30 AI startups since last year, ranging from voice assistant capabilities to expression recognition, app recommendations, and more.

Apple is integrating ChatGPT into experiences within iOS, iPadOS, and macOS, allowing users to access ChatGPT’s capabilities—including image and document understanding—without needing to jump between tools. Siri can also tap into ChatGPT’s intelligence when helpful.

The financial arrangements are not disclosed, but OpenAI will provide free access to the latest version of ChatGPT. On the privacy front, users will have to consent to each query, and their information will not be logged, according to Apple.

OpenAI CEO Sam Altman regularly faces controversies over safety concerns and their commitment to responsible AI. The latest handshake with Apple comes as a huge endorsement for the poster child of generative AI. “They’ve done some things on privacy that I like. They’re not tracking IP addresses,” Apple CEO Tim Cook said in an interview with The Washington Post. “They’re a pioneer in the area, and today they have the best model. And obviously, we’re not stuck on one person forever or something. We’re integrating with other people as well. But they’re first, and I think today it’s because they’re the best.”

Apple is going to have its own instance of the GPT model. So it's not going to be using the public-facing ChatGPT model and that makes a big difference. It's going to be owned and deployed by Apple within its firewall, explains Brandon Purcell, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester.

How prudently Apple sandboxes users’ private information beyond the queries to OpenAI using a private data centre is going to be key here. Additionally, the iPhone maker will have to be clear in its communication to enterprises on the OpenAI partnership and how the user data is decoupled from the query to help maintain the trust and privacy narrative, says Neil Shah, vice president of Counterpoint Research.

Apple’s AI features will run on the most recent iPhone 15 Pro and Macs with the latest m-series of Apple-designed semiconductors. The new 3 nanometer-based system-on-chip (SoC) that Apple has used in the latest Gen Pro iPhones, iPads, and Macs has enough capabilities and firepower to run advanced generative AI multimodal models (in which data types like images, text, speech, and numerical data are combined with multiple intelligence processing algorithms to attain higher performances). “For the upcoming models, Apple might have to upgrade its memory configuration beyond 8GB of RAM if it has to process over 7 billion parameter models in the future," adds Shah.

The collaboration between a premium phone company and a premium AI company with massive consumer adoption is mutually beneficial, but Apple will have to watch out. OpenAI is facing various legal actions, like the one from The New York Times, over copyright infringement. The aftereffects might spill over to its partnerships.

“We could see OpenAI get cancelled. It's a distinct existential threat for them if it's revealed that they used a bunch of data they weren't supposed to. That's one of the reasons when companies partner with these third parties they have to ask really tough questions about what sources of data were used or are there any known vulnerabilities or biases in the model. Companies are still learning what those questions are,” says Purcell.

Meanwhile, iOS users are looking forward to experiencing the new avatar of Siri. Let’s see if Apple Intelligence can bring it back to life.