Apple planning major Siri upgrade

As Apple's biggest competitors release new products that give their virtual assistants a place in the home, it may appear that it is falling behind in the artificial intelligence arms race. Despite the Cupertino, California company's hesitance to follow Amazon and Google's lead – whose Echo and Home devices allow consumers to interact with virtual assistants independent of their smartphones – Apple is reportedly working on a new AI system that would make Siri the clear leader of the next generation of consumer artificial intelligence. 

Last year, Apple purchased VocalIQ, a company whose own virtual assistant was far more advanced than any the commercial market has ever seen, including Google Now, Amazon's Alexa, Microsoft's Cortana and Siri, reported Tech​ Insider, citing sources familiar with the product. Apple scooped up the company before it had a chance to bring its smartphone app to market, giving the iPhone maker a chance to incorporate the technology into future iterations of Siri. 

During initial testing, VocalIQ's product responded to queries poses in natural language far better than its competitors, who required their users to speak in robotic commands. Here's an example: When asked, "Find a nearby Chinese restaurant with open parking and Wi-Fi that's kid-friendly," VocalIQ was successful 90 percent of the time. Google Now, Siri, and Cortana got it right just one in every five tries, according to one source cited by Tech Insider.

As impressive as its ability to comprehend complex queries may be, that's just the beginning. VocalIQ's digital assistant can also remember past commands, making it easier than ever to repeat or tweak previous searches even hours after the fact. Plus, a VocalIQ-enhanced Siri would be able to integrate more comprehensively with both native and third-party apps. From reading and replying to emails to calling for an Uber, VocalIQ technology is adaptable enough for users to control their phones without ever looking at their screens, Tech Insider reported. 

The role of AI in Apple's future
Upgrading Siri is about far more than Apple competing with Amazon and Google. With unprecedentedly fast 5G networks just a few years away from revolutionizing the way our devices connect with one another, artificial intelligence and digital assistants will be crucial in determining how we can interact with them. When our cars, phones, watches and computers can all share information, as well as communicate with weather, traffic and other third-party sensors, the virtual assistant will be the voice that ties them all together, the consumer-facing window of the neural network between each piece of connected hardware. 

As Siri moves beyond the iPhone and Apple Watch to Mac's OSX and, eventually, the rumored Apple Car – or at least a fleet of cars enabled with Apple Car Play – it will be poised to embody this new role perhaps better than any other digital assistant. With VocalIQ, it just might rise to the occasion.