Apple in disarray amid reported AI and Siri team infighting

Siri on iOS
(Image credit: Christine Romero-Chan / iMore)

Apple, Siri, and its lack of growth in the world of AI are reportedly being hampered by company infighting and indecision. That's according to a new report citing more than three dozen former Apple employees.

At a time when large-language models (LLMs) are being used to create advanced chatbots like ChatGPT, questions are being asked as to why the digital assistant powering even Apple's best iPhones is so far behind.

Now, a lengthy report looks into why Siri is struggling to keep up with many suggesting that Apple and some of the people within it could be the problem rather than any technical or expertise issues.

Siri suffers

According to the long and paywalled report by The Information, three high-profile engineers left Apple to work on Google's LLM because they felt that the search and ad company was a better bet in terms of AI development.

Srinivasan Venkatachary, Steven Baker, and Anand Shukla were deemed so important to Apple that CEO Tim Cook reportedly worked personally to keep them at the company. But they ultimately chose to leave and the report details multiple issues within Apple's AI and Siri teams that might explain their decision.

Apple hired former Google exec John Giannandrea in 2018 and gave him the job of revamping the company's AI efforts. It hasn't gone well.

"Inside Apple, Siri remains widely derided for its lack of functionality and improvements since Giannandrea took over," The Information cites multiple former Siri employees as saying. In fact, things were so bad that when the Reality Pro headset team was shown a Siri demo, team members considered building a new way to interact with it.

"According to interviews with more than three dozen former Apple employees who worked in its AI and machine-learning groups, organizational dysfunction and a lack of ambition have bogged down those efforts—including the work of the group responsible for Siri, Apple’s highest-profile AI technology," the report adds. It's also thought that Apple's requirement that Siri only provides almost-perfect responses curated by writers is hampering its capabilities. A requirement to have as much of Siri's processing take place on-device rather than on the cloud has also hamstrung the project, it's been suggested.

The report also outlines project Blackbird, a program that would have seen Siri rebuilt to create something altogether more agile and speedy, but that was later canned in favor of what became Siri X — a project that was designed to move Siri processing onto iPhones, iPads, and Macs in the name of privacy. Apple's focus on Privacy is unwavering, apparently to Siri's detriment.

It's still unclear what is next for Siri or whether Apple will close the gap LLMs have created. But the report by The Information paints a picture of chaos within Apple as some of the hottest engineers leave for pastures new.

Oliver Haslam

Oliver Haslam has written about Apple and the wider technology business for more than a decade with bylines on How-To Geek, PC Mag, iDownloadBlog, and many more. He has also been published in print for Macworld, including cover stories. At iMore, Oliver is involved in daily news coverage and, not being short of opinions, has been known to 'explain' those thoughts in more detail, too. Having grown up using PCs and spending far too much money on graphics card and flashy RAM, Oliver switched to the Mac with a G5 iMac and hasn't looked back. Since then he's seen the growth of the smartphone world, backed by iPhone, and new product categories come and go. Current expertise includes iOS, macOS, streaming services, and pretty much anything that has a battery or plugs into a wall. Oliver also covers mobile gaming for iMore, with Apple Arcade a particular focus. He's been gaming since the Atari 2600 days and still struggles to comprehend the fact he can play console quality titles on his pocket computer.