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Apple Starts Tapping into iCloud Data to Boost Siri

Apple is planning to gather its users’ iCloud data to improve virtual assistant Siri’s voice-recognition capabilities.

Last week, in a disclaimer attached to the iOS 10.3 beta update, the company explained that accessing those data would “allow Apple to improve intelligent features and services such as Siri.” Users that accept the new feature can still deactivate it at any time, and the company assured the data would be treated in a “privacy-preserving manner.”

The move is a departure from the stern stance Apple has taken in the past regarding customers’ privacy—see the month-long row with FBI last year. Compared with Silicon Valley rivals Google or Facebook, the Cupertino-based giant has generally baulked at mining user data to hone its artificial intelligence chops.

Now  things are poised to change, thanks to a workaround technique called “differential privacy”.  That means that, when accessing its users’ iCloud data, Apple will algorithmically muddle it— making it impossible to chalk up information to specific users, but not to use it for training AI systems.

According to WIRED UK, the method is already used on Apple devices, specifically on iMessage’s predictive keyboard, and on Spotlight search.

The shift, together with other recent signs, indicates that Apple is upping its AI game, starting from its voice butler Siri. The technology was far ahed of the competition when it debuted  in October 2011, but over the years it has been losing its edge to Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s multiple virtual assistants—all of which have been built by tapping into user data.

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