The development of Siri’s sassy personality

Sun, Oct 16, 2011

News

People so far seem to be getting a kick out of Siri, Apple’s voice-recognition enabled virtual assistant. Siri responses have quickly become a meme unto themselves as people continue to delight in Siri’s apparent sense of humor..

Siri’s antics aside, a lot of work and thought went into the development of Siri’s “personality.”

Now Siri’s origins, before it was acquired by Apple, can be traced back to an artificial intelligence project at SRI International, a spinoff of the the Stanford Research Institute. The Wall Street Journal recently caught up with Siri co-founder Norman Winarsky to glean some information about Siri’s sassy persona.

“There were many conversations within the team about whether it should be gender neutral” or “should have an ‘attitude,’” Winarsky explained. When push came to shove, the team decided that Siri should have an occasionally light attitude.

When Apple began integrating Siri into the iPhone, the team focused on keeping its personality friendly and humble—but also with an edge, according to a person who worked at Apple on the project. As Apple’s engineers worked on the software, they were often thinking, “How would we want a person to respond?” this person said.

The Siri group, one of the largest software teams at Apple, fine-tuned Siri’s responses in an attempt to forge an emotional tie with its customers.

We’ve only used Siri here in the US, but find it interesting that the voice Apple uses for Siri is dependent on the country. Whereas Siri’s voice in the US, Australia and Germany is female, the software uses a male voice in the U.K. and France. I wonder what, if any, sociological research went into that design decision.

Lastly, the fact that the team at Siri is one of Apple’s largest software groups speaks to Apple’s dedication to improve and expand the service tremendously going forward.

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