Is Siri About to Get a ChatGPT Brain Transplant?

Or simply an augmentation? Or will Apple finally launch 'Knowledge Navigator'?
OpenAI CEO Cements Control as He Secures Apple Deal
Seven months after a short-lived ouster of Sam Altman as OpenAI CEO, Altman is more powerful than ever, having eliminated his primary foes within the company and succeeding in striking a key deal with Apple to boost the impact of OpenAI’s technology.

While I linked to this report yesterday in a larger column about the OpenAI and Microsoft relationship, I thought it was worth calling out the Apple aspects here specifically. On the topic of Sam Altman:

One possibility is he could turn OpenAI into a for-profit corporation, an idea he has discussed, according to a person who has spoken to him. Some investors in the company have said they want Altman to get an equity package to align his interests with the businesses. Now, he has fulfilled a longtime goal by striking a deal with Apple to use OpenAI’s conversational artificial intelligence in its products, which could be worth billions of dollars to the startup if it goes well, this person said.

A partnership "worth billions" to OpenAI seems less about the march towards AGI and more about the march towards OpenAI as a massive AI company, period.

In addition, the Apple deal could complicate Altman’s relationship with OpenAI’s most important business partner, Microsoft. Altman recently met with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella to discuss Microsoft’s concerns about how the Apple deal might affect the cloud software giant’s own product ambitions, said one person who spoke to Altman and one person who spoke to Nadella. The two executives also discussed the servers Microsoft would need to handle Apple’s use of OpenAI services, one of these people said.

Yeah, it's hard to see how Nadella could be happy about such a deal. Maybe if it forces Apple to use and pay for Azure, I guess? But would Apple even do that? Could they bring some flavor of ChatGPT onto their own servers in an attempt to play up the privacy angle of their AI offerings? Would that even be possible?

Regardless, it's pretty clear that Microsoft is trying to bet big on consumer with regard to AI. And that's in part what the absolutely completely not an acquisition of Inflection was about. Apple tends to suck the consumer oxygen out of a room when they enter the space, so...

Altman has long relished the chance to work with Apple again. As a mobile app entrepreneur, he was one of only a few app developers to take the stage at the company’s annual developers conference in 2008, when Steve Jobs was its CEO.

But in wooing Apple, Altman had to overcome skeptics within the iPhone maker. Some Apple executives have long had an aversion to chatbots, especially its head of machine learning, John Giannandrea. In early 2023, after ChatGPT exploded in popularity, he told staff in an internal all-hands meeting that “the last thing people needed was another chatbot” after an employee asked if Apple would create something similar.

Yes, I recall that stage time, and have been wondering if we're about to see a encore performance, outfit and all...

On the chatbot point, I largely agree with Giannandrea, and I think OpenAI and others increasingly do as well. Still, in 2024 it makes sense to partner on offering such functionality which consumers will want to play around with, if nothing else.

In mid-2023, some employees of Apple’s system intelligence and machine learning team, which implements features like computer vision, text analysis and natural language in Apple’s software products, met with Altman and other members of OpenAI. While it’s not clear what they discussed, that same year Apple signed a deal with OpenAI to give Apple employees access to the startup’s conversational AI through application programming interfaces, or APIs, for internal tests.

In those tests, Apple engineers connected ChatGPT to Siri, creating impressive demonstrations of Siri handling more complex queries than usual, including by better understanding the context of what users were saying.

The hooking up ChatGPT to Siri is obviously the big element here. While Apple seems to be working on other upgrades to their assistant, those may be a bit farther out. The question is: in order to improve Siri now, is Apple willing to do a brain transplant, as it were? Replace whatever Siri is now with GPT-4o or some variation? Or could that model be made to simply augment Siri?

It isn't clear how Apple plans to use OpenAI’s technology, but the iPhone maker hasn’t developed large language models on par with those of OpenAI and Google, according to people who have worked on the models. Apple has discussed potentially using OpenAI’s tech in the Siri voice assistant to answer complex questions that Siri couldn't answer by itself, these people said. OpenAI also has discussed with Apple the possibility of powering a ChatGPT-like chatbot app, another person said.

OpenAI’s recent public demonstration of its AI voice assistant was aimed in part to show Apple how its technology could be used to make Apple's Siri voice assistant more responsive and engaging, with the ability to quickly translate languages, search for useful information or entertain users, said one of the people who has spoken to Altman.

Could Apple launch Knowledge Navigator as an app powered by ChatGPT? Forget Her, how fun would that be? Apple to Amazon: that's not a knife, that's a knife. Apple to Meta: that's not a knife, that's a knife. That's just kids having fun.

One more thing: watching the 'Knowledge Navigator' video again for the first time in a while, Apple absolutely must showcase it in some way in announcing their AI initiatives. "Enjoy your lunch!"

Update June 7, 2024: More thoughts on how Apple may partner with OpenAI on Siri...

Jolting Siri Back to Life
Does OpenAI hold the defibrillator?

Update June 10, 2024: And yet more thoughts on this topic...

Hey Siri, Who Powers You Now?
How Apple might handle their partnership with OpenAI…