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Apple seeks Siri engineer with psychology background to build out deep human-computer interactions

A recent post to Apple's corporate job listing website suggests the company is looking to build out deeper, more meaningful human-computer interactions for Siri, features that delve far beyond the virtual assistant's current capabilities.


Apple executive and Siri co-founder Tom Gruber discussing AI at a TED conference in April, 2017.


In its listing for a Siri Software Engineer, Health and Wellness, spotted by CNBC reporter Christina Farr on Thursday, Apple says users often have serious conversations with Siri, a function the assistant was not initially designed to serve.

"People talk to Siri about all kinds of things, including when they're having a stressful day or have something serious on their mind. They turn to Siri in emergencies or when they want guidance on living a healthier life," Apple says.

To see evidence of Apple's claims one needs only look back as far as September, when residents of Texas sought reprieve from the devastating effects of Hurricane Harvey. Tyler Frank, a 14-year-old who suffers from sickle cell anemia, used Siri to hail Coast Guard responders when calls to 911 failed, likely saving the girl's life.

Beyond system command and control, Siri can handle basic health queries using answers gleaned from the internet, but the service is unable to go much further. At least for now.

Some of the features Apple may have planned for Siri are hinted at in the engineering job's requirements. For example, the ideal candidate should not only hold a computer science degree and five years industry experience, but also have a background in peer counseling or psychology. Experience with artificial intelligence technologies including natural language processing or machine learning is desired, Apple says.

It seems Apple wants to arm Siri with capabilities that fall beyond the current scope of common virtual assistants, much more than opening an app or turning on house lights. The job description discovered today hints at work toward an AI that can help users solve serious life problems. It also jibes with Apple's current thrust toward health and medical technology solutions, a program that currently revolves around the Apple Watch platform.

During this week's big iPhone event, Apple aired a video showcasing a variety of individuals who benefitted from Apple Watch. Some touted the wearable's heart rate monitor, while others said the device helped them lead more active lives. The film included a testimonial from Casey Bennett, who survived a car crash by using Apple Watch's SOS feature, which calls a emergency services using a connected iPhone.

The advertised Siri job suggests Apple is looking to integrate similar health-focused solutions into its virtual assistant technology.

With the rapid build out of ancillary services, from low-level interactions like telling a joke to facilitating emergency phone calls in times of distress, Siri is slowly blurring the line between automated assistant and human operator.

At a TED conference in April, Apple AI expert and Siri co-founder Tom Gruber discussed what he calls "humanistic AI," or technology designed to "meet human needs by collaborating and augmenting people." Siri was developed as a humanistic AI with a conversational interface, Gruber said, allowing it to function as a type of automated helper.

"We can choose to use AI to automate and compete with us, or we can use AI to augment and collaborate with us, to overcome our cognitive limitations and to help us do what we want to do, only better," Gruber said.