Siri is not a chatbot and that may be just the way Apple likes it

Apple WWDC 2023
(Image credit: Future / Lance Ulanoff)

Siri, it’s not a Chatbot, it’ll never be a chatbot. I’m not sure Apple cares if it’s ever a viable competitor to ChatGPT. It’s not that Apple doesn’t care about AI – far from it. However, the Cupertino tech giant made it crystal clear during its WWDC 2023 keynote that the pursuit of generative AI domination is a distant priority behind platforms like iOS 17, macOS Sonoma, Apple Silicon, and, of course, Vision Pro and spatial computing. 

I sat in the audience on Monday (June 5) waiting for Apple CEO Tim Cook to make a pronouncement about AI's position in the pantheon of Apple technologies. It never came. So while Google and Microsoft made AI the centerpiece of their respective developers' conferences, AI was, in some ways, noticeable for its absence here. If Apple didn't want to focus WWDC on AI, surely, I thought, at least Siri will get the significant update we've been clamoring for.

It did not.

Am I disappointed that the only Siri update of note is the ability to finally drop the rude wake-word expression before its name? Since my grandmother always told me "Hey was for horses," I'm happy to bid farewell to "Hey Siri," and use iOS 17's more succinct "Siri."

I'm not so naive to think that Apple's failure to stuff its WWDC keynote with references to AI is an indication that Apple doesn't care about or use it. In fact, Apple employs AI throughout its product line. It lives, for instance, at the core of every iPhone, in the onboard Neural network inside its powerful A16 Bionic CPU.

Still in the Grand Prix race that is generative AI, Apple is, it would seem, idling at the starting line.

AI the Apple way

At least, that's one way to look at it. I'd venture that Apple sees it very differently. Siri isn't on a path to becoming another ChatGPT, Google Bard, or Bing AI. For Apple, Siri isn't the only path to, if not AI dominance, then at least AI prominence.

Throughout the keynote, Apple made multiple references to "Transformers Models" and Machine Learning. These are models built from on-board deep learning, but, despite helping with word prediction, in the case of Autocorrect in iOS 17, it is not generative AI. It's not a flashy update, but it does mean that Autocorrect might stop getting in the way of your words and sometimes salty language.

What's interesting about Autocorrect's predictive model is that it's based in part on the very same models that led to the development of ChatGPT. I'm not sure where things branched off, but it's not based on GPT-4 or even the more widely used GPT-3.

The new Live Voicemail, which types out voice messages as they're being spoken, is the work, again, of Apple's Neural Engine, which, of course, is designed to quickly carry out machine learning and artificial intelligence functions.

Similarly, the recently unveiled Personal Voice, which allows the iOS system to recreate your voice (intended for use by people in danger of speech loss) uses the on-device Neural Net to do its work.

Not flashy but useful AI, and, above all, by Apple's measure, more secure and private.

If Apple is consistent on one thing, it's putting user privacy above almost all other imperatives.

Appel didn't repeat "AI" throughout its WWDC keynote but there was a different repeated term and associated iconography: the Apple Privacy Lock logo (it looks like an apple refashioned into a sort of Yale Lock). If you were looking for a keynote drinking game, that was it. I even tweeted about how often I saw that logo throughout the keynote.

If there was any question about just how far Apple would take its privacy principles, and if it would ever sideline them in pursuit of the AI ChatBot crown, I think we have our answer.

Siri is not Apple's chatbot, but AI is still a big part of Apple's strategic product plan and the future of all Apple products and services.

Lance Ulanoff
Editor At Large

A 38-year industry veteran and award-winning journalist, Lance has covered technology since PCs were the size of suitcases and “on line” meant “waiting.” He’s a former Lifewire Editor-in-Chief, Mashable Editor-in-Chief, and, before that, Editor in Chief of and Senior Vice President of Content for Ziff Davis, Inc. He also wrote a popular, weekly tech column for Medium called The Upgrade.

Lance Ulanoff makes frequent appearances on national, international, and local news programs including Live with Kelly and Ryan, the Today Show, Good Morning America, CNBC, CNN, and the BBC.