Siri and the potential for 'Voice ID'

That might sound like an edge-case for Siri, Apple's personal digital assistant, but here's something more common — a family charging station with several iPhones devices plugged in. How do you target yours and yours alone? How do you make sure only your voice can activate Siri on your iPhone or iPad? On your Apple Watch? In your car or around your house?

To prevent false activations, the Apple Watch needs you to bring your wrist up and towards you before "Hey, Siri!" will work. The iPhone and iPad not so much. One way it could work is through voice biometrics. Think of it as a vocal fingerprint. Instead of Touch ID, think of it as Voice ID.

As the name implies, Voice ID biometrics could also be used for security the same way Touch ID biometrics are. Both our fingerprint and our speech patterns are "something we are". They can be used instead of passwords or passcodes, which are "something we know", or they can be used in conjunction for multi-factor authentication.

If you're a fan of the movie Sneakers, think of it as your voice truly being your passport.

I have no idea whether or not Apple plans to implement anything like this in iOS 9, of course, but the technology exists. Companies like Nuance (opens in new tab) are using it for a variety of applications already, and I'd love it if found its way into Siri one day.

You could register your voice the same way you register your fingerprint for Touch ID — by giving repeated samples.

The first time you hold down the Home button to activate Siri, it asks you to repeat a phrase, or several key phrases, three times each. Then it learns your voiceprint and the more you speak with it, the better than voiceprint gets. Again, just like Touch ID, but for your voice instead of your finger.

Voice ID could ensure that when someone yells "Hey, Siri!" on a podcast, or in a room with multiple iOS devices, only their Siri answers. Not mine, and not yours.

Voice ID could make it so that only you can access your iPhone or iPad or Apple Watch or CarPlay system or HomeKit system.

Voice ID could even load individualized environments when it recognized your voice — your preferences, your data, your content.

Biometrics wont solve all problems, of course. What if an iPhone, iPad, and future devices like a Siri-enabled Apple TV, all in the same room, are all yours? How would you target a specific device? "Hey, Siri on Rene's iPhone!" is workable but cumbersome. "Hey, iPhone!" locked to our Voice ID?

Taking existing technology and packaging it for the mainstream: These are the types of problems Apple is historically good at solving. Siri brought natural language voice control out of obscurity and onto hundreds of millions of devices. Thanks to its Pixar-like personality, we've learned to talk not only to it, but with it. And there's still a lot more Siri can do for us.

Siri has already made the microphone smart, the same way Touch ID made the Home button smart. But Touch ID also made the Home button personal. Voice ID could do the same for Siri.

Rene Ritchie
Contributor

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

21 Comments
  • That could work... Kool stuff
  • Hi Rich. Siri did pioneer voice assistants into the main stream. Since then however both GoogleNow and more recently Cortana have brought implementations of that technology even further. Cortana's "Hey Cortana" function does just what you posit. It takes 5 voice samples, creating a "voice print" so that only your voice will activate her. Works great. Apple will likely follow suit.
  • Apple will likely follow suit, now that they've copied and fine tuned everything that made the Palm Pre awesome.
  • Voice recognition tech has been around for at least 15 - 20 years. It is used in warehouse management systems all over the world to pick orders, etc. Sent from the iMore App
  • Who could forget the chilling moment on "Terminator - the Sarah Connor Chronicles" when Cromartie, the Terminator killer-bot emulates Sarah Connor's voice on the phone to John! to lure him into a trap? Voice ID theft may already be in use, at least in espionage and high criminal circles. Welcome to the dystopian future, ooer....
  • Your scenario is unlikely at "public events" where few phone are likely plugged into a charger-one of the requirements for Hey Siri to work. But the premise is intruding.
  • The problem is, that unlike Touch ID, Siri data is not locked in an enclave on device, but uploaded to and processed on Apple's servers. Even if you trust Apple's intentions completely, that makes any "voice print" not covered by 5th amendment protections, but information subject to subpoena. Since Apple has repeatedly said they cooperate with legitimate requests by governments, it would seem inevitable such information would be demanded, and supplied. No thank you.
  • So you have Touch ID disabled? How about a Siri command to self destruct? (or maybe just secure wipe.)
  • "Voice ID could even load individualized environment when it recognized your voice — your preferences, your data, your content."
    .
    Don't hold your breath.
    iOS still doesn't support multiple accounts or guest account. And multiple users on OSX is buggy as hell. Don't dare have two people logged in at the same time on the same computer! Forget about accessing the same iTunes or iPhoto library! Sent from the iMore App
  • Wow, that is COOL! (I've had that on Google for the last 3 months...) Yes, GOOGLE already has it.
  • Google could leapfrog Apple's tech by two years and it still wouldn't tempt me to use an Android device or Google services.
  • Yeah, this is how Google Now works. I think they've been doing it very well since 2013. Sometimes, I'm embarrassed to be an Apple user again. I keep reading all the hype about the Apple Watch and I remember that my Moto 360 did everything that the Apple Watch will do, cost $250, and was far more attractive to look at. I switched back to Apple because I like the hardware better and I feel the platform is more stable, but it's comical to watch Apple fans dream about features that are literally commonplace on the Android platform. Sometimes, iOS feels like an Android with training wheels to me.
  • Exactly...Google makes an idea work, and if it continues to work, and work well, Apple incorporates it and the iSheep all Baaaa over it and call it revolutionary. I don't dislike Apple, and own an iPhone 5 (not a 5s) myself. I definitely see Android far above and ahead of Apple though...
  • I need to be able to train Siri. I have an accent and Siri definitely has trouble following me at times. Sent from the iMore App
  • What's to prevent someone from recording your voice and using that recording to access your phone?
  • What is to keep someone from lifting your fingerprint and making a fake? I admit your scenario is more plausible, but both are possible. Sent from the iMore App
  • One requires special materials and knowledge while the other can be accomplished by any 10 year old with an iPhone.
  • Voiceprint ID is even less secure than fingerprints. All someone would need to do is record your voice and bingo. Its not that hard, once you have someone recorded saying the alphabet, to feed it into a computer and have the voice say whatever you want. Oh, I need access into this house, we'll let me just type "open door" and let the computer day it to the lock, oh it opened! Now I rob the place.... See how that example could apply to anything?
  • What if you don't use wifi locks? I've never even heard of wifi locks. Bluetooth locks, yes. Hard to do that when my phone is on me anyhow. I tried recording my voice last night and using it to open Google Now... Didn't work. Not sure why, but it didn't. I used my iPhone to record and play back. Posted via the Android iMore App!
  • Which is exactly what happened in the movie referenced in the article. Enabling voice access to any sensitive data is a terrible idea. The only way this makes sense is if voice access can be restricted to "safe" functions and data. With the Apple Watch at least there's an attempt at security by locking the device when it comes off your wrist. On a phone this would be foolish.
  • This sounds great .. Wish I had it now.. Also to go along with it .. An availability to lock any stock app via Touch ID .. Without having to download a app. Just make it a stock feature. Sent from the iMore App