If a new patent application is to go by, Apple wants its voice assistant Siri to be able to work locally whenever needed. Right now, Siri has a lot of limitations, one of them being its inability to function in the absence of a cellular connection. The seemingly smart assistant cannot even tell you what the time is when the wireless features are disabled, as it relies on Apple’s servers, and not the device itself, to answer questions. An offline mode proposed in the patent can remedy this problem.
Making Siri Smarter
When faced with a query, Siri sends the data to Apple’s server to provide a response. Apple has always claimed that its devices do have the ability to process Siri requests, but it does not want them to shoulder the added burden of processing and database storage. It is likely that sticking in the powerful A12 Bionic chip and a dedicated neural processing unit into its mobile devices, the company is confident that they can take on this responsibility now.
Currently, Siri is virtually useless when there is no internet connection. However, as the new patent indicates, an offline mode might be made available in the future. Instead of relying solely on Apple’s servers, the device would be able to handle the speech-to-text processing itself. The device will be armed with a set of modules, including, yet not limited to dialog processing, speech synthesis, phonetic alphabet conversion, and a natural language processing module to get the job done locally.
A set of predefined tasks would be stored in a service processing module and task flow processing module, and based on the query, one of them would be used to perform the incoming request. Apple has also implied that machine learning mechanisms would be used to decipher contextual information and determine what exactly the user wants.
A Two-Pronged System
The introduction of an offline mode wouldn’t mean that Apple is retiring the current system. Rather, Siri is being bifurcated in two systems: local and remote processing. Depending on the connectivity options, Siri would be able to function both ways. If there is no connectivity, the on-device Siri would be used. However if the internet connection is available, the online-processed query and the locally-processed version will be assigned a usefulness score, and the task will be performed using the interpretation that got the higher score.
In addition to increasing the interpretability of Siri, such a system would give the digital assistant a backup option on which it could fall back in case the server version becomes unavailable or times out. Moreover, if the offline mode turns in an unusable result, an alternate interpretation would be available whenever the device is connected to the internet.
Let us state the obvious disclaimer here: a patent doesn’t guarantee that the company would implement the proposed idea. However, given that the Neural Engine in Apple’s newest homebrewed A-series processor can perform pretty intensive tasks, giving an offline mode to Siri shouldn’t be a problem. The addition of a local Siri database would most likely come alongside a major iOS update. Even the current iOS 12 has come with a lot of improvements, such as Siri Shortcuts which enables users to create personalized Siri commands.