VocalIQ upgrade could help Apple's Siri better understand context

Apple bought the AI speech engine last October

Siri could be about to see an upgrade with new technology courtesy of UK-based company VocalIQ, which Apple acquired last year in an attempt to boost its voice recognition engine.

According to a new report from Business Insider, the VocalIQ product is more capable than many of Siri's rivals, such as Google Now and Microsoft's Cortana, or understanding natural speech. Among the impressive features is the ability for users to ask questions with ordinary language, rather than formalising their words and tone.

This was tested with the question: "Find a nearby Chinese restaurant with open parking and WiFi that's kid-friendly," followed by "what about Mexican instead." While most voice assistants saw a 20 per cent success with the first phrase, VocalIQ hit 90 per cent accuracy.

It can also reportedly filter out extraneous noise.

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The Cambridge-based speech specialist says its technology, which becomes more accurate the more it is used, is important to the IoT and it could potentially be used to not only improve the accuracy of Siri's voice recognition technology, but also understand nuances of a conversation.

In fact, VocalIQ was able to return much more accurate responses after being fed around 3,000 dialogues, whereas it takes Siri around a billion queries per week.

When talking about the function and purpose of VocalIQ technology, Blaise Thomson, CEO and co-founder of the company explained: "There are no commands for the user to learn. It's about having a conversation.

"For all of the many devices we use, we want to find a way to get what we need, in the easiest, safest way possible," Thomson said. "That's where voice comes in."

It has been estimated that the deal to acquire VocalIQ was worth between $50m (33m) and $100m (65m), although this has not be confirmed by either party.

Siri will also get some improvements this year, according to The Information, with Apple opening the voice assistant up to third-party developers.

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