Apple Showcase: Firm unveils ways to make Siri smarter

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SAN FRANCISCO >> Apple kicked off its annual software developer conference with an artificial intelligence upgrade for Siri, its digital assistant, as well as new software features for other devices and an overhaul of its music service.

CEO Tim Cook opened the event with a moment of reflection for the Sunday mass shooting in Orlando, Florida. He called the shooting a "senseless, unconscionable act of terrorism and hate aimed at dividing and destroying," and noted that Apple makes a point of celebrating its diversity before asking the crowd to rise and take part in a moment of silence.

A smarter Siri

Artificial intelligence, personified by the wisecracking Siri, is starting to play a larger role in Apple's future plans.

On Monday, Apple announced that the voice-controlled assistant will work on Mac desktop and laptop computers, where it can locate files and perform other feats. Siri will also gain new capabilities with Apple TV, where it will let you launch live TV viewing with voice command and search YouTube and the iTunes store for videos.

Perhaps more important, Apple is letting Siri work with applications made by other companies. The change will open up new ways for Siri to help iPhone owners get things done more quickly.

Such AI features are emerging as a major new tech battleground, one where Apple is racing to catch up with other virtual assistants from Google and Amazon. Amazon's assistant, Alexa, is enjoying a surge in popularity, partly because it works well with a variety of other applications.

Getting to know you

Experts say the changes could make Siri more useful to consumers and help Apple learn more about its users. But it could diminish use of Apple's homegrown apps, such as Apple Music or Maps. Now, users might ask Siri to open a competitor like Spotify.

With AI, "systems get much better the more they know about the user," said Alan Black, an expert in voice-enabled technology at Carnegie Mellon University.

Apple, however, has long been reluctant to pry too deeply into your personal information. And some experts say that has put it at a disadvantage compared to Google, which has compiled vast quantities of data — about both individual users and consumer trends — from its search engine, Gmail, maps and other well-liked online services.

Apple's Ai improvements aren't restricted to Siri. An update to the iMessage app, for instance, will rely on machine learning to automatically suggest appropriate emoji to place alongside texts. It will also show graphics and thumbnails of the information contained in a web link and automatically play online videos when they're opened by a recipient.

New coats of paint

Apple, however, is eager to keep users engaged with its own apps and services, and announced several redesigns aimed at making them more useful.


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