Apple has acqui-hired a small startup called Init.ai to work on Siri, TechCrunch reported today.
According to a notice on the Init.ai website earlier this week, the startup would be discontinuing its service soon because the team was “joining a project that touches the lives of countless people across the world.”
TechCrunch’s learned they’re joining Apple to become a part of the group working on Siri.
“It’s not known exactly how many of the Init.ai team are joining Apple but the startup was not very big—just six people, according to LinkedIn, including co-founders Keith Brisson, Will Dawoodi, Kyle DeTella and Trevor McNaughton,” writes the publication.
A notice on the Init.ai website reads:
Today is an exciting day for our team. Init.ai is joining a project that touches the lives of countless people across the world. We are thrilled and excited at the new opportunities this brings us.
However, this means Init.ai will discontinue its service effective December 16th 2017. While we wish to make this transition as smooth as possible, we cannot continue to operate Init.ai going forward.
Interestingly, one of their earlier posts criticizes the nature of the Siri integration in iOS 10, calling Apple’s SiriKit framework limited to specific use cases and restricting.
“Siri was opened in a way that further reinforces the concept of installing an app on your Apple device,”Init.ai’s Keith Brisson wrote in 2016, adding:
As a consumer, to add functionality or features to Siri, you must install an iOS app. As a developer, to integrate with Siri, you must create a special addition to your iOS application that enables Siri to tell the iOS app when the user wants to do something. Siri extensions cannot be built or added outside the context of an iOS app.
The post proposes an open Siri that would work like Amazon’s Alexa, which uses third-party “skills” that are not limited in the type of service they can implement.
Perhaps this is the chief reason Apple acqui-hired Init.ai talent, to make an open Siri bot platform which could compete with the likes of Amzon Alexa and Google Assistant by allowing developers to be innovative in any domain rather than just a few Apple-sanctioned ones such as payments, ride hailing, messaging and so forth.
To that end, Init.AI has in fact built a set of AI-based skills around natural language processing and machine learning, to analyse chat-based conversations between humans.