• Apple will only require that you say ‘Siri’ to wake your virtual assistant. 
  • People already say ‘Hey Siri’ even when they don’t need to. 
  • This move may signal better artificial intelligence (AI) behind a future Siri.

Apple Siri

Apple may drop the first part of its "Hey Siri" wake-up phrase from upcoming versions of its operating systems, but who's going to stop saying it, really?

Voice assistants are set to always listen to the world around them, sitting tight until they recognize their catchphrase: OK Google, Hey Siri, and so on. Only then do they process the subsequent words as a request. Apple’s plan, reported by well-sourced Apple journalist Mark Gurman, would shorten this phrase, but what’s the point? And won’t it make Siri less accurate?

“People will still communicate with Siri using ‘Hey Siri’ for quite some time until Apple can promote through its ads, video clips, and other materials that they have switched to only ‘Siri.’ This can be resource-taxing and time-consuming, which is not worth it just for the pretext of changing the wake-up call for the AI assistant the world has already been familiar with,” Dylan Kaplan a machine-learning expert on the Enjoy Machine Learning blog told Lifewire via email. 

Catchphrase

I have a friend who rarely uses Siri and has the always-listening feature switched off. And yet, when they invoke Siri via a long press on the top button, they always preface their (usually very polite) request with "Hey Siri."

And why not? Not only is that how we have learned to speak to our iPhones, but we're also human. Even though we know that Siri isn't a real, intelligent being, it still feels a little abrupt to give an order without any kind of salutation.

This move towards a one-word response would tilt the entire process towards an advanced artificial intelligence system.

Viewed from this angle, one wonders why Apple would bother. After all, not only do people say "Hey Siri" when they don't have to, nobody seems bothered by it. It's not like you have to say it before every sentence. Once Siri is awake and listening, you can just converse with it. Within Siri's limits of understanding anyway. And even if Apple changes it, we will all keep saying the whole phrase. It's a part of the vernacular now.

Perhaps Apple wants to copy features from other voice assistants. For example, echo users can customize the wake word for Alexa, the assistant that lives inside their Amazon Echo. 

But perhaps dropping the "hey" is not a goal but a side effect of deeper improvements to Siri. 

Accuracy 

For a wake phrase to be effective, it has to be distinctive enough to be easily grabbed from the soup of sound surrounding us. Humans have no problem detecting speech and separating words. You can be in the middle of a conversation in a noisy restaurant but still notice your name called from across the room. For a computer, it's not so easy.

“The decision to shorten the phrase ‘Hey Siri’ is probably signaling broader alterations to come and might require vast artificial intelligence training. When there are going to be two triggers to the virtual assistant, it will permit the system to work more precisely and accurately identify requests. This move towards a one-word response would tilt the entire process towards an advanced artificial intelligence system,” cybersecurity specialist and privacy expert Isla Sibanda told Lifewire via email.

A wake word, then, should stand out. And the longer and more distinctive the phrase, the lower the likelihood of false positives. By cutting out the Hey part, Apple would be simplifying that phrase quite a lot while also making it feel more awkward to say. 

Someone using the Siri digital assistant on their iPhone.

"Further, even if it is just omitting a single short word, the underlying principle is more complicated than that. There will be back-end AI training that must replace or rearrange priority in favor of 'Siri' instead of 'Hey Siri,' says Kaplan

Hopefully, what this all means is that Siri is getting better. Apple must know that its virtual assistant is the butt of jokes, and anecdotally according to my acquaintances, it's the slowest and least accurate of all the major assistants. So abandoning Siri's iconic wake phrase without beefing up everything behind it first seems like a recipe for more ridicule. Then again, maybe Siri will finally be useful for more than just setting an egg timer.

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