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Tuesday, December 06, 2011, 03:26 pm PT (06:26 pm ET)

Apple hiring more Siri engineers, working on evolving API, features, languages

Apple has at least two job postings open for "iOS Software Engineers" that describe work on the Siri voice assistant user interface and the development of an Application Programing Interface, indicating continued work on the new feature. Three additional job listings involve porting Siri to other languages, something readers have noted Apple has already collected voice samples for among native speakers.

Now hiring for Siri

"We are looking for an engineer to join the team that implements the UI for Siri," one job posting notes.

"You will primarily be responsible for implementing the conversation view and its many different actions. This includes defining a system that enables a dialog to appear intuitive, a task that involves many subtle UI behaviors in a dynamic, complex system. You will have several clients of your code, so the ability to formulate and support a clear API is needed."

A second job posting elaborates, "This is a broad-ranging task - we take every application that Siri interacts with, distill it down to fundamentals, and implement that application's UI in a theme fitting with Siri. Consider it an entire miniature OS within the OS, and you get a good idea of the scope!"

Apple also has three positions listed for "Language Technologies Engineers," tasked with "bringing new languages to Siri, Apple’s new personal assistant technology for iPhone, as well as other cloud based services."



Against it before they were before it

Apple's Siri group has already been described as "one of the largest software teams at Apple," and the series of new positions indicate the project is only growing, both in scope and in importance. Apple is building out Siri both as a strategic feature unique to the iPhone 4S, and as a cloud service that its job listings suggest could find applications among its other products, including the Mac.

After initially being ridiculed by top managers at both Google's Android and Microsoft's Windows Phone as not being "super useful" (Google's Andy Rubin insisted that he he didn't "believe that your phone should be an assistant") leading developers at both Google and Microsoft have since suggested that they are actually ahead of Apple's Siri in terms of voice technology.

Prior to the release of iPhone 4S, both of their platforms actually were, at least in offering OS-integrated support for voice recognition. Across iOS devices apart from the iPhone 4S, Apple is still behind, offering only the basic Voice Commands with no support for voice transcription outside of third party apps. However, Siri breaks new ground far in front of where Google and Microsoft were playing, and Apple is using the new technology to make its latest iPhone 4S its fastest selling smartphone ever.

Baby steps for Siri

Building functional voice-based services isn't just a matter of obtaining state of the art recognition algorithms. Siri was released in "beta," a non-typical move for Apple, in part because the way to improve voice recognition is to have it in wide use, learning from the tasks it is given.

Benoit Maison, who worked for IBM in voice recognition for almost six years, noted in a blog entry today that "it's not just easier" to improve voice recognition while it’s being widely used, "it's the only way!"

"We participated in DARPA-sponsored research projects, fields trials, and actual product development for various applications: dictation, call centers, automotive, even a classroom assistant for the hearing-impaired," Maison writes. "The basic story was always the same: get us more data! (data being in this case transcribed speech recordings)."

He adds, "some researchers have argued that most of the recent improvements in speech recognition accuracy can be credited to having more and better data, not to better algorithms." By having Siri in the wild responding to actual voice requests from real users, Apple is collecting a treasure trove of information it can use to make Siri even better.

On page 2 of 2: Collecting voices to improve results, The first one isn't free