With many tech companies coming up with their own voice assistant, Apple is trying to stay ahead of the race by teaching Siri more language. Apple’s voice assistant can already speak 21 languages localized for 36 countries – a feature that no other electronic assistant has, including those from Google, Microsoft, and Amazon.
How Apple makes Siri learn a language
On Thursday, Reuters disclosed some details about how Siri is made capable of speaking so many languages when its rivals, such as Microsoft’s Cortana, can speak only eight. Amazon’s Alexa can speak only two, and Google Assistant can speak only four languages.
Learning and speaking languages natively is difficult for all digital assistants. The voice assistant has to know when to speak which word because some words may have one meaning in America and another in another country.
As for how Siri learns a new language, Alex Acero, head of the speech team at Apple, says the company begins work on a new language by bringing in humans to read different passages and word lists in a range of dialects and accents. The speech is then recorded and transcribed by hand so the computer has the correct representation of the spoken text. This data is then fed into an algorithmic machine training model, says Acero.
Apple then tunes the data internally and moves on to the next step. The tech giant releases the new language as a feature for MacOS and iOS dictation rather than adding to Siri. By doing this, the tech giant gets hundreds of speech samples from anonymous people. This process reduces the dictation errors by half, says Reuters. The same process is repeated several more times until the feature is ready for Siri.
Siri to soon speak Shanghainese
Being able to speak 21 languages is one of the biggest strengths of Siri over its competitors. Amazon is planning to add more languages to Alexa pretty soon. Currently, Alexa can only speak only German and English. Google also plans to add more languages to its voice assistant.
According to Reuters, Microsoft has an editorial team of about 29 people who customize its voice-assistant Cortana for local markets. Another relatively new player is Samsung’s new virtual assistant Bixby, which is expected to be featured in the Galaxy S8.
Meanwhile, Apple wants to take its lead further when it comes to localization. According to Reuters, Siri will begin to learn Shanghainese soon. Shanghainese is a special dialect of Wu Chinese that is only spoken around Shanghai.